The Truth About the City's Solar Permit Move

Quest: Solar

In Search of All That Solar Red Tape the City Apparently Cut

The City Council approved a measure this week to streamline permitting for residents who want to go solar. San Diego has been repeatedly praised for its fast, efficient process, and seemingly no residents or solar companies have complained.

The easiest problems to solve are the ones that never really existed to begin with.

That seems to be the case with a measure the City Council approved this week to speed up residential solar permitting. City Council members talked up the move before the vote, and it inspired some glowing press.

What didn’t get much play is the fact that solar permitting woes aren’t much of a thing in San Diego, at least for residential installations. With Tuesday’s vote, San Diego leaders were mostly just ensuring the city’s already swift process also applies to duplexes.

Notably, the move didn’t come as a result of complaints from those who’d gone through the process of switching to solar or other industry types. It was a response to a 2014 state law that aims to force cities to streamline their solar approvals by September.

One of the bad apples when the law was proposed was Los Angeles, where solar advocates once decried a 12- to 13-week waiting period for a permit.

That’s not the case in San Diego.

Solar advocates have praised the city and county for speedy permitting for residential installations.

“San Diego County is and has been one of leaders on this,” California Solar Energy Industries Association Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro told me in May.

A spokesman at Solar City, one of the nation’s biggest solar companies, has also praised the city’s program.

Development services program manager Amanda Lee cited the city’s same-day program before the City Council voted to approve the update on Tuesday.

Such programs have helped San Diego retain its place as one of the nation’s solar meccas.

Buildzoom.com, a startup that connects customers with contractors, recently reviewed solar permitting data in the top 40 metro areas and found San Diego had more solar systems per 1,000 people than any other region.

San Diego had almost 6.5 times more solar per capita than the national average, according to the analysis.

That’s not to say the solar lobby’s not concerned about the future.

The industry’s closely following debates about changes to a billing deal that allows solar customers to slash their energy bills, an income tax credit that now lessens the burden of solar purchases and upcoming electricity rate adjustments.

So while San Diego solar executives aren’t criticizing the City Council’s Tuesday vote, it’s safe to say solar permitting isn’t at the top of their list of worries. Or, put another way, solar boosters have 99 problems and permitting ain’t one.

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This is part of our quest on whether solar will pay off for San Diego. Check out our previous post, Solar Customers Are Still in the Dark on These Big Unanswered Questions, here.

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