Collaborating with stakeholders – Leveraging existing resources

As the solar market continues to grow exponentially, local governments are experiencing an influx of solar permitting applications. This case study highlights the efforts of the County of Los Angeles to develop a streamlined permitting process for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that helps lower costs for consumers and serves as a model for other jurisdictions.

With solar PV installation poised to double in 2016, local governments face a looming challenge

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that soft, or nonhardware, costs of solar power, such as installation labor, transaction costs and supply chain costs, account for 64 percent of the total cost of a new solar photovoltaic (PV) system.[i]

Local governments have control over two variables that can reduce these costs: permitting processes and their associated fees, which comprise approximately 4 percent of the total costs. The design and administration of the permitting process creates an opportunity for local governments to directly reduce solar costs to consumers.

Streamlining Solar Energy through Communication
Solar Energy Action Committee

The Building and Safety Division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works recognized that streamlining and expediting small residential rooftop solar energy systems would encourage adoption of solar PV and help meet renewable energy goals. They explored ways their department could not only help the solar industry but also lead it, and in July 2015, organized the Solar Energy Action Committee (SEAC).

The SEAC unites public and private leaders in identifying the many challenges preventing state and local governments and industry from meeting aggressive renewable energy goals. It comprises a highly focused and motivated group of solar experts collaborating on solutions to the many issues impacting industry. Members include representatives from authorities having jurisdiction, fire departments, solar contractors and manufacturers, testing labs, utilities and associations, including the Center for Sustainable Energy and the California Solar Energy Industry Association.

Los Angeles County is the nation’s largest county and processes the largest number of solar permitting applications. In August 2015, the county passed an ordinance for a streamlined permitting process for small residential rooftop solar energy systems in compliance with California Assembly Bill 2188.

Leverage Existing Resources
California Solar Permitting Guidebook and Toolkit Documents

Los Angeles County addressed the requirements of AB 2188 by leveraging existing resources to ensure compliance and accountability. By implementing the processes vetted by the taskforce for the California Solar Permitting Guidebook, the county was able to create uniform and expedited permitting for small-scale solar. By adopting its recommendations, local governments can reduce permit processing times and increase their output while facilitating local economic development. The guidebook is a resource for local governments and permitting agencies to facilitate installation of small solar energy systems. All seven of the expedited solar permitting toolkit documents are available online from the Center for Sustainable Energy or as LA County implemented then at the Department of Building and Safety website under Small Residential Rooftop Solar Energy Systems.

Lessons Learned

The County of Los Angeles leveraged available resources to streamline its solar permitting process and engaged key solar stakeholders to develop solutions to challenges identified by jurisdictions, installers, utilities and equipment manufacturers. Leadership and innovation are key components to ensuring future growth and success of the solar industry.

For information about the SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge Golden State Solar Impact (GSSI) program or to learn how your jurisdiction can implement solar PV streamlining best practices, contact Marcus Gilmore at the Center for Sustainable Energy.

For more details about Los Angeles County’s solar permitting, contact Mostafa Kashe at the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works.