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Published on May 23rd, 2012 | by Susan Kraemer


Vermont Pioneers 10-Day Rooftop Solar Permits

May 23rd, 2012 by  


One of the avoidable costs of going solar is the current unnecessary bureaucratic delays in getting the solar permits.

When we went solar in 2010, it only took half an hour for the solar salesperson to convince us to go solar, but then it took another long eight months for our city building inspector to bring himself to believe that industry leaders (SunRun/Petersen Dean/Yingli panels/SMA inverter) knew what they were doing in designing our installation.

Having agreed to go solar in February it was mid October before our roof began shipping its clean electrons into the California grid. The building inspector kept putting off a decision due to uncertainty and inexperience with solar, so it was not a cut and dried decision with any kind of template for decision-making as there is with building codes that he was used to following.

As you can imagine, this kind of delay wastes a lot of time and money for the solar industry, adding to the hassle factor of going solar in a way that could be changed.

SunRun estimated in a study done last year that permitting adds an average cost of $2,500 to each solar installation and that just streamlining that process would create the equivalent of a $1 billion stimulus to the solar industry over the next five years. The extra cost – $500 per kilowatt – is caused by wide permitting variations that are completely unconnected to safety, variable fees, and by simple procrastination by city officials.

Vermont has pioneered a solution. They began by prescribing that every install under 5 kW can be permitted after just 10 days, following a simple, free, and pre-determined process to get a solar permit, which they appropriately and pleasingly named a “Certificate of Public Good.”

This week they expanded their program that cuts paperwork and uncertainty to cover more projects – up to 10 kW in size, which is large enough to cover virtually all home solar systems.

The new process replaces all permitting for ground or roof-mounted solar systems 10kW and smaller with a single basic registration form outlining the system components, configuration, and compliance with interconnection requirements.

Then the local utility has 10 days to raise any interconnection issues, otherwise a permit is granted and the project may be installed.

The Department of Energy has begun to attempt to reduce these sorts of “soft costs” of solar, on a nationwide basis. What Vermont has done is to show how straightforward that can be.

“We think the Vermont registration process could be a real model to follow nationally,” said President and General Manager of SMA America Jurgen Krehnke of the program earlier this year. But that might not be so easy.

Unfortunately, as with many other clean energy and energy efficiency issues, there are vast differences in states’ building and permitting codes, for a reason.

Solar power production on your roof may seem like an obvious “Public Good” to a blue state like Vermont, but to coal-powered states in the South, whose utilities make more money when their customers use more dirty power, the prospect of easy solar installs could be construed as anything but.

Image: home solar roof via Shutterstock 
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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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