Permitting Adds Unnecessary Cost to Solar in LA County

As any installer dealing with the headaches of antiquated permitting practices will tell you, these local rules have a significant impact on the cost and time of going solar. Today with our partners at the Sierra Club we released a report rating residential solar permitting practices across one high-growth solar region: Los Angeles County. Our report found that these solar permitting practices vary widely across the county with significant room for improvement in a majority of cities. In other words, permitting is a major unnecessary cost-culprit.

Read the full report here.

Like any other home improvement project, when a homeowner invests in a solar electric system, he or she must first apply for and obtain a permit from their local government. According to best practices, this process should be simple and quick and reflect the municipality’s actual cost of review and issuance. Instead, we have a patchwork of permitting practices that vary city to city all across the country  – and are more often than not unnecessarily costly, complex, non-transparent and time-intensive. And those costs add up. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that such inefficient permitting processes add $1,000 – $3,500 in cost and one month in development time to the typical residential solar installation.

“While the cost of solar panels have dropped far and fast over the past few years, non-hardware costs, like permitting, haven’t budged much at all,” said Evan Gillespie, Director of Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “While there are some cities who are real leaders on the permitting issue in L.A. County, there are many more that lag. We encourage all cities to adopt best practices and reduce costs and headaches for solar installers, customers and public agencies alike.”

“With a clear policy commitment to clean energy at the state level, California leads the nation on rooftop solar. However, we have an inefficient local permitting landscape that directly undermines its clean economic development and carbon reduction goals. Cutting red tape, reducing unneeded fees and otherwise standardizing permitting practices are simple and effective ways that local governments can support Californian investment in solar energy,” added Susannah Churchill, our West Coast Regional Director.

The Sierra Club assessed 90 Los Angeles County municipalities and 11 Los Angeles incorporated areas against six best practices from Vote Solar’s Project Permit tool. San Fernando, Temple City, Long Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Hidden Hills, Santa Monica, Downey and Lancaster lead in solar-friendly permitting practices with “Best” scores. The City of Los Angeles received a “Good” grade, which is expected to improve in the coming months as the city implements Mayor Garcetti’s exciting “Sunny Skies” initiative. Fully 40 municipalities received “Worst” scores, indicating significant need for improvement. However, the biggest problem identified in the report is simply the lack of standardization. Nearly every city in Los Angeles County has adopted a unique permit approval process.

California’s Assembly Bill 2188 (Muratsuchi), which is now moving through the halls of Sacramento, would help address this unnecessary barrier to residential solar by standardizing and streamlining permitting practices statewide. In May, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Assembly with a bipartisan vote of 58-8. It must now pass the Senate and be signed by the Governor in order to become law. The bill is supported by a coalition of business associations, solar companies, environmental groups, and local elected officials.

California is the largest rooftop solar market in the nation. Solar panels are installed on over 250,000 homes, businesses, and schools totaling more than 2,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity statewide. A bright spot of economic growth in the state, rooftop solar has helped support over 43,000 local jobs and driven $10 billion dollars in local private investment. Streamlining local permitting would clear the way for continued solar success by lowering costs for the solar industry and the customers they serve.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT Sign up for updates from Vote Solar on solar progress and energy justice across the U.S.