California has passed SB 379, the Solar Access Act, which will require cities and counties to adopt automated solar permitting systems. The act is expected to lead to shortened project times and lower permit costs for residential solar.
The law is a welcome change to rooftop solar installers and customers, who rely on short project timelines for a positive customer experience. Projects with a nameplate capacity of 38.4 kW and below are eligible for automated permitting.
The bill states that to reach its clean energy goals, California may need to deploy up to 6 GW of new renewable energy and storage resources annually.
“This bill will help cities and counties go big on solar by cutting permitting costs and wait times. With solar permitting legislation passed, it’s exciting that more Californians can now tap into this abundant energy source,” said Steven King, clean energy advocate, Environment California.
“California’s substantial network of rooftop solar and battery storage helped avoid rolling blackouts during the latest heat wave’s peak. Now these technologies will be even easier for consumers to get their hands on. We need to do all we can to eliminate barriers to further adoption of solar and storage,” said King.
The law is also aimed at reducing permitting costs, which represent part of the acute problem of soft costs in the U.S. rooftop solar market.
A soft cost is anything not directly related to the construction of the system, and includes such items as design, fees, sales costs, taxes, and insurance. Shawn Rumery, senior director of research at SEIA, said soft costs represent 60-70% of total residential solar costs, and 50 to 60% of total commercial solar costs. Since 2014, residential system costs have come down roughly 25%, but soft costs have dropped only 15%, said SEIA.
The Department of Energy has been working to tackle this issue nationwide by developing and testing the SolarAPP+ automated permitting tool. SolarApp+ can handle about 90% of solar permits in most jurisdictions, tackling simpler projects, and freeing up time for jurisdictions to focus on more complex building permits that are already clogging their pipelines.
The California law states, “Because the 2021 budget included a $20 million appropriation to the Energy Commission for grants to all jurisdictions that adopt the SolarAPP+ or a similar program in order to expedite permitting, local permitting jurisdictions can and should be required to adopt SolarAPP+ or a similar program for automated permitting in order to promote the development of solar and storage to help meet the state’s clean energy needs.”
The law exempts cities with populations of fewer than 5,000 and counties with populations of fewer than 150,000, including each city within that county. Cities with a population of 50,000 or fewer must satisfy the law’s requirements by September 30, 2024, while cities, counties, and cities and counties with populations greater than 50,000 are required to satisfy the requirements by September 30, 2023.
This July, California launched an incentive program for cities to adopt SolarAPP+. The program, called CalAPP, provides grants and assistance to cover the staff time and other resources spent on adoption. The maximum grant sizes range between $40,000 and $100,000 depending on population. The grants are non-competitive and the application is simple.
“CalAPP is a quadruple win,” said Jeanine Cotter, president and CEO of Luminalt, a solar installation company in the Bay Area. “Everyday, we devote a ton of resources to obtaining permits for our clients to go solar. By encouraging cities to adopt the best practice of automating permitting, CalAPP will slash costs for building departments, installers, and customers, leading to solar on more roofs, which in turn will reduce global warming emissions.”
SB 379 was co-sponsored by Environment California and SPUR, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener and co-authored by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi. It was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. Full text of the law can be found here.
“As record-breaking heat waves tax the state’s electric grid, transitioning away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy has never been more urgent,” said King. “Signing SB 379 into law marks an important step in expanding access to clean, renewable solar energy throughout California.”
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My Tesla Solar Glass Roof was completed on October 22, 2020, and yet the permit possesses, that required an inspection, did not get the inspection until February 28, 2021, and the utility turned me on in March 10, 2021. They blamed the 4-month delay on COVID-19 but the people working from home and inspectors in the field did not take solar installations as seriously and the more “fee heavy” new homes, apartments and business.
It’s about time for something like this and I hope many more states follow suit. Then if we can all just get the utility regulators on the customer’s side and stop allowing utilities to undermine rooftop solar.
I wish the state would expedite the permitting process for off grid solar residences! I’m going through the process now and it’s pretty convoluted.
I’m surprised that permits are not already automatic… Soon most installers will just be the homeowner. These systems should be plug and play, even to the point where new electrical main panels just have a port that homeowners can plug their systems into, for both battery systems and solar systems. In Phoenix there’s a same day permitting system for almost all projects, then a call for inspection system where you call before 5p and the inspector is there the next day. The rest of the country must do better. Also anything that is better than ancient codes should be approved… We don’t need receptacles every 12 feet anymore. Homes should ban hot water loops, just a cold supply to location based tankless hot water heaters, no hot water at laundry, all refrigeration systems should be mini splits with new flexible PEX refrigerant lines, capture condensate for landscaping or pool filling, and no hardwired fire detection and annunciation systems… That one gets me the most… With a big house or a hotel or office building, one break in the wire from fire or explosion and you no longer have a system that works (ie WTC NYC attacks and MGM Las Vegas and other examples). Finally no more fire sprinkler systems tied to domestic…. Needs to be bladder tanks stored between joists or studs. They pop, they evacuate, refill with a hose connector. We can do better. Save money, speed projects. With solar and batteries we should have the goal of $0 energy bills for all Americans by 2030… Use low interest debt to pay for the projects and put it on property insurance for 100 years at nearly 0pct interest, upgrade systems every 10-20 years and include battery storage. Frees up disposable income to spend everywhere else in the economy, and when people need welfare or government assistance, they need less of it from taxpayers. Living in more comfort with less worries and less hours of work means stronger and happier individuals and families.
Lots of great ideas. Now just need to convince the Luddites. lol
Why did we let the PUC allow the Edison co charge us for installing and generating solar E. It needs to be a goal to encourage solar by making it cost effective. I Gen. Electricty but have to sell it at below market and Edison can sell it at way above market…not a fair deal!
What if my electricity company don’t allow me go solar.
If your utility does not allow grid-tied installations, like what Hawaii had a few years ago, just install an off-grid system, on your own, powering the 120-volt circuits of your home and let the utility continue to power the 240-volt appliances. Just do not get a “grid tied inverter” but batteries and pure sine wave off-grid inverters instead.
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