A very promising solar bill is making its way through the California Legislature. AB 2188 calls for a streamlining of the permitting process, and Sunrun has issued a report stating it could deliver an additional $5 billion into the state’s coffers. This bill has already been passed by the Assembly (58-8) and is now before the senate. I recently had an opportunity to ask Walker Wright, Director of Government Affairs at Sunrun, how AB 2188 would make California’s solar more affordable.
Question: Tell me a little about the idea that streamlining the solar permitting process can deliver billions in additional growth to California’s economy.
WW: Solar equipment costs have fallen dramatically over the last decade, but non-hardware costs (soft costs) are the last frontier to continued price declines. Already, the soft costs involved with solar installations (the permitting, customer acquisition, labor, etc.) are 50-70% of the total installation cost. Permitting alone can be 5-20% of the total cost, depending on location and size of the system.
Streamlining the permitting process across municipalities will reduce those costs, making solar available for even more homeowners of all income levels. More rapid solar adoption through streamlined permitting will grow the California economy and create clean economy jobs.
What kind of permit streamlining is AB 2188 calling for?
WW: AB 2188 focuses on streamlining the process for standard systems under 10 kW. To offer a comparison, in Germany these types of systems no permitting at all.
Under AB 2188, municipalities would provide a checklist for the specifications of the system. The installers would fill this out, similar to a checklist at the doctor’s office. (If you don’t check off any health issues, then you’re good to have a standard appointment. If you do, then more questions are asked.)
If everything fits the checklist, then the permit is given. If anything about the system doesn’t fit the standard design, then additional work is required to grant the permit. Following installation, a single inspection will happen within a determined amount of days of the request to ensure that the specifications on the checklist carried through to system construction.
Question: Tell me a little about the online component. How much of the process will homeowners be able to do online?
WW: AB 2188 will help usher rooftop solar permitting into the modern age by requiring municipalities to publish the checklist and permitting documentation on its web site. Moreover, this process will authorize electronic signatures on all forms, applications and other documentation (as many municipalities already have) instead of only wet signatures.
This provides advance visibility into the requirements from a particular jurisdiction to prevent a trial-and-error permitting process. In many cities today, an installer could end up waiting all day at a permitting office with paper records, only to turn around and repeat the exercise if something needs revising. This is wasted time and money, and it carries through to installation costs. The online component expedites this approval flow.
Q: AB 2188 calls for some very tight timelines – inspections within 5 days of the request, an application review within 24 hours – How do you know that the various municipalities can do this?
WW: The framework on which AB 2188 was based is already in practice in a few municipalities in the state, including San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. There have been no issues meeting the timelines. The result is faster and smoother installations for the installer and the homeowner.
Q: There does not appear to have been much opposition. Was everyone in the Assembly pretty much behind the bill? Do you expect that kind of reception in the senate?
WW: The bill passed with broad support in the Assembly. We hope the Senate will also see the immense value in this bill when it moves into Committee at the end of this month.
Q: Assuming it passes the Senate as well, when do you expect to see the final vote?
WW: We are hopeful that it will pass swiftly and be signed by the Governor in September so California can continue to lead the way on solar cost reduction.