When it comes time to install a new solar system, local permitting can be a walk in the park or a nasty bureaucratic headache. Fortunately, it is a barrier that can be easily reduced by actions at the local level. More walks in the park we say!
Today we released a report (PDF here) that takes a look at how solar permitting is playing out in Pennsylvania. The third state in Vote Solar’s Project: Permit campaign to improve solar permitting practices in cities nationwide, the report surveys 36 local jurisdictions in PA and benchmarks their practices against industry best practices. And we found plenty of room for improvement.
The average process for permitting a residential solar system in Pennsylvania is nearly twice as expensive and eight times longer than recommended best practices.
|Criteria||Best Practices||PA Average|
|Basis of Fees||Fixed, flat||Mostly value-based|
|Time to Issue||1 business day (electronic or over-the-counter)||8 business days|
Of course, those local permitting practices vary widely by municipality. At the high end, Pennsylvania permit fees can cost up to $1,200 and take as many as 15 business days. Ambler, Altoona, Bethlehem, and Lancaster lead the state in solar-friendly permit practices. Meanwhile, Lebanon, Middletown, Norristown and Fort Washington showed the most need for improvement. The state’s major cities – Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – fall somewhere in between, although both have partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to lower permitting costs.
The City of Philadelphia has been especially proactive in streamlining the permitting process by developing a comprehensive guide and online portal that detail the solar installation and permitting process. Additionally, Philadelphia has provided exemptions for systems that meet certain criteria from the building review process and provides a streamlined combined permit at the electrical permits counter without needing to go to the building permit counter.
And the City of Pittsburgh and 24 municipalities in western Pennsylvania are working with PennFuture, Allegheny County, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Congress of Neighboring Communities, SUNWPA (the regional solar industry collaborative) to streamline solar zoning, permitting and inspection procedures through the Department of Energy SunShot Rooftop Challenge. This collaborative will develop a model ordinance and permitting practices that will be available to all Pennsylvania municipalities by February 2013. The permitting process will closely mirror the DOE Solar ABCs expedited permitting process and the solar permitting fees recommended by Vote Solar.
Check out the full report, interactive map and best practices guidelines here: http://votesolar.org/solar-map/.
Permitting may not sound sexy, but it has a BIG impact on the overall cost of going solar in the U.S. The Department of Energy reports that “soft costs” – including permitting and other non-module costs – have remained relatively flat over the years while solar panels and other hardware have significantly come down in cost.
According to a report issued by SunRun, in 2007 local permitting and inspection added 13% to what a homeowner would spend on panels. Today, they add as much as 33% in some jurisdictions, and within a few years they could add 50%. By comparison, countries such as Germany, France and Japan have eliminated permitting costs for most residential solar energy systems.
Vote Solar encourages all municipalities in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. to consider adopting the ‘best practices in solar permitting’. DOE’s SunShot Initiative is also working on developing open-source tools and technical assistance programs for municipalities interested in improving their permitting practices. See here.
Today Pennsylvania, tomorrow communities all across the county!