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Technical Assistance Spotlight: Permitting

Permitting is one of the biggest roadblocks when it comes to the growth of solar at the local level. Across the 18,000 local jurisdiction in the U.S., the solar permitting process differs greatly and is often expensive, time-consuming, and outdated.

Many studies have examined the impact of local permitting processes on residential PV pricing. A 2013 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that that municipalities in California with the most favorable permitting practices had installed prices $0.3/W to $0.8/W lower than in municipalities with the most onerous practices. Examples of onerous practices might include a solar permit that requires four different application forms or takes more than 10 days to process. Such practices create unnecessary costs that ultimately burden the resident or business seeking to install. Another Berkeley Lab study, from 2015, found that variations in local permitting processes lead to differences in average residential PV prices of about $0.18/W between jurisdictions with the most onerous and most favorable processes, equivalent to a $900 difference in system costs for a typical 5 kW residential PV installation.

By adopting a more standardized permitting process based on best practices, local governments can help drive greater solar deployment and make it possible for even more homes and businesses to access solar energy to meet their electricity needs.

How SolSmart Helps

To date, SolSmart has helped over 225 communities nationwide implement best practices to streamline their permitting process. For example, in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, we trained permitting staff on national best practices for solar PV and solar + storage systems. In Louisville, Kentucky, we helped officials shave several days off the permitting process and establish an more efficient permitting pathway for small PV systems. And in Denton, Texas, we assisted officials in developing an online permitting checklist, which reduces the errors and inefficiencies that often extend timelines and raises costs. All in all, SolSmart can help communities complete 15 different actions to streamline their permitting process and make it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar. Other solar permitting actions include:

By taking these actions, communities earn points toward SolSmart Bronze, Silver, or Gold designation. SolSmart designees receive national recognition for their bold steps to encourage solar energy growth and remove obstacles to solar development. For companies looking to expand, a SolSmart designation is a signal that is “open for solar business.” If you’re interested in learning more about SolSmart technical assistance or the designation process, request a consultation here.

SolarAPP: An Innovative Solution

SolSmart’s technical assistance is a fantastic method to establish your community as “solar-ready.” Building on this foundation, the Solar Automated Permitting Process (SolarAPP) campaign is a new innovative effort to radically alter the solar permitting process for local governments. Spearheaded by The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association and backed by prominent industry stakeholders, SolarAPP aims to help local governments institute an instantaneous online permitting system. For local governments, this system has the potential to dramatically reduce the costs of going solar locally, expand the number of installations within their community, and empower more efficient use of taxpayers’ money all the while simultaneously upholding solar safety standards. Learn more here.