The U.S. solar industry has reached a point in which the cost of solar is favorably comparable to the costs of retail electricity in many states. The price for photovoltaic (PV) modules have experienced rapid declines due to fierce international competition and subsequent over supply. Still, non-hardware costs such as permitting and inspection have remained relatively constant.
The United States is comprised of more than 18,000 local jurisdictions whose permitting requirements and fees vary widely. This lack of permitting standardization across jurisdictions and inefficient permitting processes create challenges that impede national solar deployment.
Here are 10 ways in which the solar permitting processes could be improved and costs lowered:
1) Statewide Legislation
The first thing states need to do to lower the costs and time involved in solar permitting is to create a broad standard that remains consistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
This would eliminate inconsistencies across regions and allow for a simplified solar energy training process for permitting employees and solar installer statewide.
2) Permitting Checklists
Surprisingly, many states and jurisdictions do not have a step-by-step approach that leads installers and homeowners through the solar permitting process.
There is tremendous opportunity to offer this educational and organizational tool to reduce errors and inefficiencies while minimizing permit submission and approval time.
3) Permitting Templates
Just as surprising, many local municipalities don’t have forms that standardize information collected from installers and homeowners.
Knowing what is required in a straight-forward way will minimize applicant confusion and improve permitting office efficiency and response times.
4) Limiting Inspection Time Windows
In solar permitting, as in everything else, time is money. There need to be requirements specifying that inspections must occur within a certain time frame from the point of permitting and installation.
This is crucial to not only reducing permitting process costs and delays, but also reducing the frustration associated with long wait times for solar inspections.
5) Permitting Information Websites
There is a lot of information involved with getting a solar array properly permitted for rooftop installation. States and local municipalities need to build websites dedicated to the solar permitting process that houses all of this information in one place.
This type of one-stop-shop website will allow people to access the above resources, track permits, and increase their understanding of the permitting process.
6) Online Permitting
The Federal Government realized a long time ago that being able to file tax returns online would significantly reduce costs on both sides. In addition to resource websites, States and local jurisdictions need to allow for online permit submission, review, payment and printing.
There is no reason developers should have to travel to permit offices to deliver submissons. This would also ensure the use of a consistent template.
7) Eliminate Permitting Fees Entirely
While not many jurisdictions have pursued this idea, this significant cost reduction may boost the market for solar installations enough to offset the lost revenue.
8) Cap Permit Costs
Instead of eliminating permitting fees entirely, another option is to cap permit costs. This would encourage residential and commercial customers to opt for a larger system without an increase in the cost of the permit.
9) Tie the Cost of the Permitting Fee Directly to the Cost of Issuing the Permit
The Colorado Fair Permit Act prohibits fees higher than the cost required to issue the permit. This creates a standard and easily understood process that limits the cost of permit fees while eliminating the financial risk associated with waiving fees altogether.
10) Base the Permit Fee on the PV Installer Labor Costs
In Minnesota, the Minneapolis Regulatory Service enacted a rule that bases the permit fee for small-scale solar installations in Saint Paul and Minneapolis on a calculation that excludes the cost of solar equipment.
Assuming an easy-to-use fee calculation, this could reduce residential permitting fees by hundreds of dollars in some locations.