News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

State Releases Guidelines for Faster Solar Permitting

No permits were required to install this array in Slab City, but elsewhere in the state rooftop solar can be mired in red tape. | Photo: Matt Derrick/Flickr/Creative Commons License

How do you go about installing solar on your rooftop in California? It depends on what part of California your rooftop is in. Permitting standards and procedures vary from county to county and town to town, as do the fees you might find yourself paying to pull the needed building permits. Across the country, local permitting fees add an average of fifty cents a watt to the cost of installing solar, which amounts to a billion dollar tax on the industry over the next five years.

But the State of California is working to make installing rooftop solar easier, cheaper, and faster.

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The California Governor's office this week released its long-awaited California Solar Permitting Guidebook, which is intended to standardize permitting across the state and reduce bureaucratic disincentives to solar installation.

The paper is the result of an order by Governor Jerry Brown to his Office of Planning and Research to find ways to remove barriers to solar development. The Guidebook, mainly written by the California Building Standards Commission, Department of Housing and Community Development, and the State Fire Marshal, describes current laws and permitting procedures for rooftop and other distributed solar in California, and makes recommendations for changes in local permitting processes for solar installations under 10 kilowatts in capacity -- the size of a typical household solar installation.

The recommendations include standardized checklists and permit forms to make it clear to homeowners just what they'll have to do to get their system permitted, built and inspected, as well as measures such as making sure forms and regulations are available online, and that fees can be paid online as well. (That last seems like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of building permit-issuing municipalities in California don't offer online application or payment.)

All in all, it's a bit of common-sense policy work from the Governor's office, and if applied across the state might do something to reduce the 40% red-tape overhead for solar installation compared to that in rooftop solar world champion Germany. Even in cash-strapped California, some municipalities are waiving permit fees for rooftop solar, and instalations on small rooftops and in parking lots are already exempted from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This guidebook is yet another step in the right direction.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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