Costly and inconsistent permitting and approval processes burden the solar industry. Municipalities and counties in many states have varying permitting and interconnection procedures and fees, which significantly slow the solar installation process and increases costs to customers and installers. Furthermore, high costs due to cumbersome permitting requirements have been shown to deter solar installers from entering markets entirely.
Modernizing solar permitting for residential and non-residential customers is a low-cost, straightforward way to strengthen state solar markets. Addressing these challenges will reduce complexity, cut down soft costs, and signal to solar installers that counties and municipalities are ready for their business. Projections show that streamlining permitting processes could reduce the cost of the average residential solar project by $700 and that standardizing local regulatory regimes could reduce the cost of a project by over $2,500.
States can look to recent successes in reducing permitting time and costs in Vermont, Colorado, and California. In 2011, Vermont passed legislation that simplified and standardized the permitting requirements across the entire state, as well as reduced the processing time for solar projects. In Vermont, local utilities have 10 days to review the standard application and raise any related issues. If no issues are raised within that time frame, the project is automatically approved for construction. In Colorado, the Fair Permit Act of 2011 reduced permitting fees for solar projects, ensuring that customers were not charged more than was necessary to review their project. Colorado set the fee cap at $500 for residential systems and $1,000 for non-residential projects. San Jose, California integrated the solar permitting process into their city webpage and offers extensive permitting information in one easy-to-use location.
Streamlining the solar permitting process is a low-cost and low-risk solution for bolstering in-state solar markets. States could lower soft costs and increase efficiency at a low cost to the state by streamlining permitting information, applications, forms, procedures, and technical requirements and making them readily available online. Offering this information online allows customers and installers to submit, review, print, and pay for permits in one convenient location. Integrating a permit checklist into a website that offers access to information and resources on solar installation can reduce mistakes while curbing time related to the permitting processes. By eliminating unnecessary fees and reducing the variability in permitting requirements across the state, states can help lower the overall soft costs of installing solar.