Solar industry leaders launch new initiative to automate solar project permitting

solar permitting red tape

A big issue still holding back the U.S. solar industry in areas around the country is cumbersome and inconsistent permitting and inspection processes. This is an issue we covered in-depth in “Shadow Costs,” the cover feature of our Sept./Oct. issue. With the support of industry leaders, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation are kicking off Solar Power International week by unveiling the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, which they say will streamline permitting and slash the cost of solar installations.

Today, the permitting and inspection process adds about $7,000 in direct and indirect costs, approximately $1.00 per watt, to a typical residential solar energy system. In addition to reducing the expense of solar installations, SolarAPP improves the efficiency of going solar by creating a rules-based, automated permitting and inspection process.

“The goal is to make solar permitting more straightforward, and more routine, while at the same time maintaining the safety and reliability that U.S. solar projects are known for,” said SEIA’s president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “SolarAPP will cut unnecessary red tape, while saving Americans thousands of dollars. By making the process of going solar more efficient, both our companies and their customers win.”

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“Reforming the solar and battery permitting process is one of the most significant steps our country can take to making solar more affordable for all,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun. “There is a patchwork of inconsistent permitting procedures and standards across the U.S. and our customers pay the high costs of navigating this system. We have an opportunity to help the industry invest in a million more solar roofs over the next 5 years from the savings by making the permitting process faster, while ensuring safety and reliability for all.”

The following reforms are involved:

• A safety and skills training and certification program that allows residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to attest that their projects are compliant with applicable codes, laws, and industry practices, thus eliminating the need for a traditional multi-step permitting process;

• A simple, standardized online platform that will be provided to local governments at no cost, to “register” and automatically screen qualifying systems for local government authorities;

• A list of established equipment standards and/or certified equipment for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process;

• The creation, or refinement, of system design standards for qualifying solar projects;

• A model instantaneous permitting regime for home and small-commercial solar and battery storage systems installed by certified installers and contractors;

• A program administrator to oversee and implement the plan, including providing technical assistance to state and local jurisdictions and utilities.

“An automated solar permitting process will reduce unnecessary costs and give Americans more freedom to choose how they meet their energy needs,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “With this plan, we have a clear path forward to make solar installations even more affordable and widespread.”

The solar industry is working with stakeholders across the industry and government, seeking feedback on SolarAPP.

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