We've been actively covering the vexing issue of solar permitting and solar's "soft costs" in recent weeks.
Last week we reported on Vermont's measures to reduce the cost of solar permitting, an overlooked but significant chunk of solar installation costs. We also covered the $27 million that the DOE has devoted to solving the problem. We've assessed how all of this fits into the DOE SunShot program of getting the cost of installed solar down to $1 per watt.
This week Colorado got into the act.
Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper signed the Fair Permit Act HB-1199 into law this week.
The Fair Permit Act prevents state and local government agencies from charging excessive permit fees and plan review fees to customers who are installing solar electric or solar thermal systems. The legislation extends existing caps on solar permit fees through 2018 and closes loopholes to further reduce costs, according to the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA).
According to a recent report to the DOE from solar leasing firm SunRun, inconsistencies in permitting can cost consumers up to $2,500 on a 5-kilowatt rooftop solar system. The cost stems from the time spent by installers in getting the building, zoning, and fire department permits, waiting for inspection, dealing with changes -- and losing customers in the process. The report also adds that Germany has a 40 percent installation price advantage over the United States.
In Colorado, state permit fees more than doubled last year and local fees and processes vary widely by region. In some communities, government permit costs can exceed the labor costs to install a solar system. The Fair Permit Act helps rein in excessive government fees -- and it doesn't just apply to permit fees; it also applies to plan review fees and other fees to install a solar electric or solar thermal system.
This legislation doesn't affect a local government's right to charge sales tax and use taxes under Home Rule laws, but it does improve transparency by requiring government agencies to 'clearly and individually identify all fees and taxes assessed,' according to COSEIA.
Doug Payne, the Executive Director of SolarTech, had this comment: "These are the sort of 'micro-policy' innovations critical to driving up to $1.00 per watt of red tape out of the marketplace in the next few years; it aligns well with SolarTech's National Soft Cost reduction roadmap proposed to the DOE last month. At the end of the day, all solar is local. A 'solar in a box = over the counter' approach like this gets us where we need to be cost-wise even faster. We still need to standardize on codes, inspection requirements, and fee structures, but this is clearly a step in the right direction."