Experience any roadblocks while trying to pull a permit for a photovoltaic (PV) system in your city? Paying too much? You’re not alone. Getting your PV system a permit can be a daunting task for both customers and installers.
According to report by Clean Power Finance, about 23% of PV installations cost more than expected. More than a third of solar installers actually avoid working with certain Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) because of their solar permitting processes.
What’s wrong with these permitting processes and what can we do to fix it? What’s being done right now?
No standardized permitting process or fees have been set among AHJs, or the entities that have the power to determine and enforce code requirements for PV systems. I’m catching up with GoGreensolar.com CEO Deep Patel to touch on some of these issues.
From a solar contractor’s perspective, how do varying permitting procedures affect your business?
It makes it more difficult to generate a proposal. There really is not a cookie cutter solution, so unfortunately we can’t just generate proposal on the spot. It often takes weeks because we have to call the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), leave messages, and wait for them to call us back.
So when you’re trying to get a proposal out, it often takes up your time. This increases the wait-time for customers and often drives up the soft costs of solar. Would you say that this cost is passed along to consumers?
Yes, proposals currently have to account for this unpredictability. When you’re running a business with that kind of uncertainty, you have to pad the proposal in case of any unexpected fees or codes changes.
In an attempt to bring down the time and soft-costs that come with this inconsistent permitting process, the DOE’s Sunshot supported Clean Power Finance’s efforts to develop a National Solar Permitting Database. The goal is to provide solar professionals a platform to give testimonials about different AHJs and coach each other through these permitting processes. I guess you could say it’s like Yelp for solar contractors to review AHJs.
A National Database can help solar contractors work more efficiently, but is it not placing a Band-Aid on a bullet wound? Given that the DOE already has a standardized set of permitting policies known (solar ABCs), is it even fair that the burden of navigating these arduous permitting processes is imposed on those who are installing solar electric systems?
The problem is that the DOE doesn’t have the jurisdiction here. The DOE can’t force the cities to follow a standardized permitting process, but they can make recommendations and city governments can choose to adopt them. Meanwhile, we’re over here trying to do our jobs!
So this time businesses could be spending on getting proposals out the door, they end up researching permitting processes. Contractors should be able to focus on installing PV systems instead of fussing over inconsistent permitting procedures. What kind of pressure needs to be applied to remedy the current situation? What kind of public policies could be implemented on to encourage to streamline solar permitting?
The North American Electric Grid is a federal asset and energy is a national issue. Federal tax dollars should be used to incentive municipalities to adopt streamlined procedures. Imagine the federal government saying ‘Hey city, if you go through this streamlined process, we’ll give you a grant to improve the process.’
Thanks for talking with me, Deep.
To our readers who have been pulling permits for PV systems- how long did you have to wait to get a permit? Do you think the cost was too high?