May 17, 2012
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC) today released Sharing Success: Emerging Approaches to Efficient Rooftop Solar Permitting, a new report that outlines innovative strategies being implemented across the United States to help increase the efficiency of permitting procedures for rooftop solar systems. The report aims to serve as both a vehicle for discussion of permitting challenges, and as a source of inspiration for communities looking for realistic and effective ways to improve solar permitting while ensuring safe solar installations.
“IREC has been a leading resource for city and county building officials by providing field inspection guidelines and workshops,” said Jane Weissman, IREC’s Executive Director. “The Sharing Success report becomes another valuable tool to help jurisdictions ensure safe solar installations in their community.”
Sky Stanfield, Erica Schroeder, and Thad Culley of Keyes, Fox & Wiedman LLP prepared the Sharing Success report after extensive one-on-one conversations with cities and counties regarding their permitting processes and the specific improvements they were putting in place. “As we spoke with city and county staff and to solar installers, we came to appreciate the need to develop methods that would result in efficiency improvements for both entities,” said Sky Stanfield, lead author of the report. “We found that communities are identifying permitting improvements that can save time for everyone involved.”
IREC found that the dramatic increase in the volume of solar applications is placing a burden on local permitting agencies. As a result, the desire for increased efficiency comes not only from solar installers but also from municipal staff.
At a high level, the basic process that applies for obtaining a permit for a solar system is relatively similar across jurisdictions. However, since in almost all states, city and county building departments are responsible for permitting, local variations have resulted in a patchwork of different requirements and processes nationwide. Growing attention to the non-hardware or “soft” costs associated with rooftop systems has highlighted the need for increased consistency and improved efficiency to reduce the time and expense of permitting rooftop systems.
Sharing Success lays the foundation for the discussion of local permitting by examining the role that state and regional entities play in improving permitting procedures. The focus of the report, however, is on the steps of the permitting process at the local level. The report examines the pre-application stage and the importance of providing clear and accessible information to installers so that system design and applications can be done accurately from the start. It looks at the three main methods of submitting and processing permit applications and highlights innovations from cities such as San Jose, California; Honolulu, Hawaii, and Portland, Oregon to expedite review. The report looks at how jurisdictions can develop appropriate permit fees and also examines improvements to the inspection process.
Sharing Success allows cities and counties to see for themselves the variety of different approaches to permitting reform that are available. The report is rich with concrete examples of process improvements being made across the United States and includes a comprehensive annotated bibliography to help readers find additional sources of information on permit processes.
“We hope that communities will see that process improvements can be tailored to the unique circumstances of each municipality,” said Sky Stanfield. “We also highlight the economic and procedural benefits of having consistent procedures across regions and identify the value of collaborating with other jurisdictions in developing process improvements.”
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC) is a non-profit organization accelerating the use of renewable energy since 1982. IREC’s programs and policies lead to easier, more affordable connection to the utility grid; fair credit for renewable energy produced; best practices for states, municipalities, utilities, and industry; and quality assessment for the growing clean energy workforce through the credentialing of trainers and training programs. IREC is the National Administrator for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network.