Solar Panel Permitting Fee White Paper
While the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars promoting renewable energy and conservation, a number of local cities in San Diego County are impeding customers' efforts to switch to non-polluting, renewable energy. That is the startling findings of UCAN's survey of the building and permitting departments in San Diego County.
This study highlights the urgent need to standardize most cities' solar installation permitting process and provides ways of accomplishing that goal. In general, UCAN recommends a collaboration of city and state officials, licensing boards, solar component manufacturers, contractors and installers to create a standardized model for the permitting process and pricing. In this way, San Diego Cities can assist the region in becoming energy efficient and energy self-sufficient.
UCAN's review of the policies of 17 cities throughout San Diego and the County of San Diego shows a wide discrepancy in the cost of permitting fees and requirements to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems. Permit fees varied from a minimal $22.50 to over $500, with an additional $1,000 Design Review application fee in Del Mar--more than a twenty-fold difference. The variation in type of permits and charges required to install solar panel systems ranged from city to city. Four cities assessed an issuance charge; 12 required plot plans, four required roof & structural plans or a building permit, and six cities had no set requirements for permitting. In fact, no two permitting departments were alike in terms of procedure, costs or required information for installing PV systems.
More San Diego residents are turning to solar energy in light of the state's energy crisis. UCAN's survey reveals that though some permitting agencies have streamlined the process and are prepared to handle the new technology, many lag behind and consumers and contractors are the ones that suffer. Some building and planning departments are currently ill-prepared to handle the task of permitting PV installations because they lack the standards and experience of more seasoned departments. Numerous city building departments previously dealt with a handful of solar permits a year, but as PV becomes more of a solution for California's energy future, the cities will need to revamp their currently-outdated systems.
UCAN's Specific Findings of the Cities Surveyed
Costs, Exorbitant Fees and Extraneous Requirements
· On average, permitting fees cost $218.
· Four cities had permit fees under $70
· Six cities had permit fees over $200
· Costs of permits can vary by 2300% depending on the city in which the solar panel system is located
· Consumers face excessive charges for permit fees and additional requirements compared to neighboring cities
· Plan check fees range from no-fee in El Centro and with the County of San Diego to as much as $400 in Chula Vista.
· Consumers may be charged higher fees for the same service such as building permit fees and plot plans.
Lack of Standardization
· Various cities have no standard for determining permit fees: 1 city used a design review process, 1 used a performance-based inspection, 8 cities used a contract valuation, and 8 cities had a flat fee.
· The type of documentation needed for a solar permit is not standardized and varies from city to city.
· Consumers and contractors may endure long delays caused by requirements for both a solar and building inspection or due to not having foreknowledge of required documents.
· There are a limited number of qualified solar permitting inspectors.
According to the most recent report from the California Energy Commission, the State of California imports 18% of its power needs. The San Diego region produces approximately 2,200 MW of power to serve the area's projected 2001 demand of 4,376 MW. In other words, customers in SDG&E's service territory are heavily-dependent on importing half of their electricity from outside the region. One way to decrease this dependence is for residents and businesses to invest in on-site, distributed generation such as fuel cells, microturbines, wind generation, co-generation, passive solar water heating and solar energy. Electricity generated in this manner does not need to be transported over long distances from centralized, large power
plants to the end user, distributed generation technologies could reduce the estimated 6% to 8.6% of electricity that is lost by transporting it through the transmission and distribution system; thus, aiding in reducing the region's import dependence by upwards of 187 MW. In truth, transmission line upgrades are not only inherently inefficient with line loss factors, but reinforce our dependence on importing power from out-of-state, while increasing the rates of utility consumers to pay for their construction.
A Typical Case History:
Lewis Fry is a consumer who lives in Chula Vista who decided to invest in a solar panel system that would meet his family's energy needs, allow them to do their part in resolving the energy crisis and produce their own power using a renewable, non-polluting energy source - the sun. He did extensive research and finally chose a contractor and equipment that would power his house and reduce his family's reliance upon imported power. But he was blindsided by a disturbing realization - his local municipality was going to make him pay dearly for his good intentions. It was with more than just a little shock that he learned in early June that he would have to pay upwards of $607 to obtain a permit for his new 2.4 kW solar electric system. The City of Chula Vista required $200 for the building permit and $400 to review the plans for the installation. In addition, the City told Mr. Fry's contractor, a licensed electrician for almost ten years, that it would require 7 to 21 days to review the those plans. To date, Mr. Fry is still waiting for his system's permit to be approved by the City of Chula Vista. Until the permit is issued, Mr. Fry will not be able to receive his 50% rebate from the California Energy Commission for installing renewable energy.
Unfortunately, Mr. Fry is not alone. Other consumers throughout San Diego are finding that a municipality can be a friend or an obstacle to "doing the right thing" for the environment and for Southern California's dependence on importing electricity. UCAN decided to compare the various costs and issues associated with installing solar electric panel systems in the cities and County of San Diego. We found that some cities used a sliding scale for permitting fees and therefore we assumed an average PV system of 3kW, enough to provide approximately 450 kWh per month costing approximately $16,000 after deducting the California Energy Commission's Buydown rebate.
II. Solar Permits
According to data from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), the local utility that oversees the interconnection of solar electric panels to its transmission and distribution grid, 2001 has already shown a seven-fold increase in the number of PV systems installed compared to the previous year, with hundreds of other installations in the works. Statewide, the California Energy Commission, which doles out the state's 50% rebate program for installing solar energy and other forms of distributed generation, shows a ten-fold increase in solar energy rebate requests in 2001 compared to 2000. Obviously, the current electricity climate in California and Southern California has led to a substantial increase in the number of consumers who have decided to invest in generating their own power using solar energy. However, though it is evident that solar power is exponentially on the rise, the question remains about whether the agencies in charge of making sure such systems are installed safely, have the resources and expertise to permit these installations in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Using solar energy to create electricity necessitates review by various planning agencies. Solar permits are required to insure that new solar electrical systems are safe for homeowners, contractors, electricity grid technicians, firemen and the transmission and distribution grid that serves the community. Connecting any kind of electrical generation into the transmission grid is potentially dangerous and must be done with caution. Therefore, appropriate interconnection standards are required to prevent electrocution and electrical fires, ensure that solar electric panels and the community are safe from power surges during blackouts, and facilitate the safe backflow of power into the transmission and distribution grid. In addition, building structures must be inspected for wind sheer and load bearing capabilities before solar electric systems may be installed. In general, permits need to be issued to ensure that solar systems meet current building and electrical code requirements.
|Solar Energy Permitting Fees whitepaper.doc||103 KB|