2011-11-07 "Commercial and Residential Solar PV Permit Campaign: Solano County" from "Sierra Club"
A summer 2011 survey by the Sierra Club revealed wide variations in permit fees charged for commercial and residential rooftop photovoltaic (PV) energy systems by municipalities in Solano County. The survey found that fees for commercial PV projects of 131 kW in size varied from $400 to over $20,000 (survey responses are based on a $1,200,000 project valuation, current market valuations are closer to $700,000, see appendix A in the full report for survey details). High fees can discourage businesses and residences from making good, long-term, high-yield investments in solar power. Most municipalities are charging fees that exceed the maximum cost-recovery levels identified in this report for commercial PV projects. Three cities are charging more than $10,000 for a commercial PV permit (about 4 times higher than an estimated maximum fee that enables full cost recovery). For 3 kW residential PV permits, one city in Solano County is charging excessive fees.
Figure of 131 kW commercial survey results
Figure of 3 kW residential survey results
The time needed for city staff to review and inspect a commercial PV project does not vary linearly by system size. For instance, interviews conducted in the preparation of this report revealed that the difference in time needed to process a 100 kW PV project is about two to three times longer than a 10 kW project (not ten times longer). Some efficient jurisdictions can do plan reviews and inspections for large commercial PV projects that take only slightly longer than a medium sized commercial PV project. Basing fees on the value of the solar equipment inflates permit costs to unreasonably high levels, especially for larger, more expensive solar power projects. To recover costs, therefore, permit fees should be based on specific review times and billable hourly rates and not on PV project valuations.
The authors of this study have developed a free, public fee calculator spreadsheet to help municipalities determine cost recovery [http://www.solarpermitfees.org/PVFeeCalcCommercial.xls].
You can see the detailed (dynamically updated) survey responses and current PV permit fees at: [www.SolarPermitFees.org/PVFeesSolanoCounty.html]
This report recommends best practices that municipalities can adopt to assure greater consistency, and help businesses develop an energy source that leads to a healthier, safer, and more stable community. These include setting permit fees at cost-recovery levels, and instituting streamlined permit processing procedures.
PV permitting recommendations [http://www.solarpermitfees.org/PVPermitFeeRecommend2010.pdf]
Executive summary of Solar Electric Permit Fees for Commercial and Residential Installations in Solano County [http://www.solarpermitfees.org/PVFeeSolanoExecSum.pdf]
View the full Report of Solar Electric Permit Fees for Commercial and Residential Installations in Solano County [http://www.solarpermitfees.org/PVFeeStudySolano.pdf]