Sacramento Utility SMUD is Leading The Way to Standardize Sacramento Solar Installation Permits

Federal and California government via California solar incentives deserve much credit for making solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems (solar panels) more affordable for California homes and commercial business. Solar companies and manufactures are also making great strides to lower the cost of solar over the last 24 months. Solar permit fees are passed on to the California solar panel system home and commercial business owners and can add much to the roadblock to moving closer to energy independence.

SMUD, along with California Governor Schwarzenegger, have taken a leadership role to help clear the way for clean energy jobs for Sacramento and the rest of the state. Here is a little diddy on solar permitting that is an example of the solar power incentive leadership that is mentioned here. Bottom line is there’s never been a better time to go solar, and in a growing number of California cities are joining Sacramento by making it easier to go solar. Yes Virginia, going solar is an economic no-brainer. We should print that solar energy fact on every T-shirt across the nation to remind America everyday. Solar energy creates good paying local jobs, puts money back into the community and we move further away from environmental messes like the current one in the gulf.

Sacramento Business Journal – by Melanie Turner, Staff writer

When contractors look to secure permits to install solar panels on residential rooftops, they often don’t know what they’ll be up against.

A solar installer might get a low-cost permit over the counter. Or they might be in for a long and expensive process as fire departments get involved, for example, to make sure projects conform to regulations. In some cases, the process to secure a permit for a roof-mounted solar electric project takes three weeks, and the fees — such as for a building permit, plan check and inspection — total close to $1,000. Those fees get passed along to homeowners.

But there’s hope for change.

A Sacramento Municipal Utility District-led effort to standardize the permitting requirements and fees for residential roof-mounted solar projects has had some success. Now, there’s a desire by some local government officials and others to expand that effort beyond SMUD’s service territory to the larger Sacramento region.

The effort to regionalize standardized permits and fees for solar, meanwhile, has been spearheaded by the Green Capital Alliance, with Downey Brand LLP lending legal support.“SMUD did a tremendous job of taking the initiative to put in place a standardized ordinance for all jurisdictions in SMUD’s services area,” said Wendy Bogdan, a partner in the energy, land use and mining group at Downey Brand. Now, she said, a cooperative effort is in the works involving people from business, legal, government and policy sectors to create a standardized permitting process that contractors could count on whether they were doing business in Davis, Galt or Roseville, for example. “The greater uniformity we can provide, the more we can demonstrate to businesses looking to locate in the area that we want to make this easy for them,” Bogdan said.

SMUD’s initiative standardized permit requirements for California residential solar photovoltaic installations in Sacramento County and each of its cities: Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento. The three-year pilot project, which kicked off in 2007, included a standardized application and all fees related to the installation of California solar energy products photovoltaic systems on existing homes were waived.

While the application does not expire, an ordinance suspending fees does Dec. 31. There are ongoing discussions about possibly establishing a flat fee of $200 across cities in the county, said Jamie Cutlip, an associate planner with the city of Sacramento.

“We either revert back to the old fees or come up with an alternative plan,” she said. “I can’t see anyone continuing to waive fees given the current economic climate.”

On the Sacramento commercial solar side, Sacramento California might also look at establishing a flat fee associated with a fee schedule that would vary depending on the size of the project. Larger projects take more review time.

Meanwhile, Sacramento might revisit the standardized permit application to make changes based on feedback provided by plan checkers and others involved in the permitting process, Cutlip said. City staff would like to include a site plan in the permit package, for example, she said.

It makes sense for cities to revisit the application late this year and move forward with an amended set of requirements, Cutlip said. SMUD, meanwhile, is contacting the cities to ask them to consider keeping the standard requirements in place in 2010.

SMUD was inspired to do its pilot project after conducting a study in 2006. Whereas one city would take 20 days to review a typical 3-kilowatt residential solar project, another would review the same size project over the counter.
Fees for residential solar projects, according to the study, ranged from a flat $192 in Citrus Heights to $823 for a 3-kilowatt photovoltaic system in Folsom.

The big differences across jurisdictions left contractors frustrated.

“None of us have online plan submittals or post our requirements online,” Cutlip said. “So, if I’m based in Roseville but I have a project in Rancho, you drive out there and discover you’re missing half of your submittal package, you have to drive back to get it.”