Vancouver’s New Permits Discourage Rooftop Solar

Editor’s Note: The City of Vancouver has since informed me that some of the information in this article arises from a misunderstanding. Permitting costs do not include the equipment, just installation costs, which significantly reduces the totals used below. Rob Baxter, President of SPEC, says the this is a verbal commitment they made and not yet in writing. It is expected to cut $650 from the bill, which he says will still be at least three times higher than permitting in Toronto. 

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1Vancouver intends to become the Greenest City in the world. It has drawn up an Action Plan identifying 10 specific goals for that it wants addressed by 2020. These include the city’s carbon emissions, Waste and Ecosystems, but they appear to have largely overlooked the potential for solar energy. Vancouver is one of the least attractive cities for solar.


The Greenest City

Solar Photovoltaic Installation in Burnaby, BC completed by Vancouver Renewable Energy (www.vrec.ca) by Rob Baxter via Flickr ( CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
Solar Photovoltaic Installation in Burnaby, BC completed by Vancouver Renewable Energy (www.vrec.ca) by Rob Baxter via Flickr ( CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

“Vancouver is talking about being the greenest city,” said Rob Baxter, President of Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC). “It seems to me that in this case you would want to have at policy that was at least as good as other cities, if not better.”

None of the incentives that spurred solar in California, Germany or Ontario are available. According to the data from SPEC, the permitting fees in Vancouver were recently raised so that they are now six times more  than in Calgary or Toronto. The cost of doing an installation increased by about 10%. To install a 5 kW photovoltaic system in Vancouver, you might pay $2,029
 in permitting and engineering costs. That same system would incur fees of about$342 in Toronto and no fee what-so-ever in Germany. SPEC is calling on Vancouver to review its policies related to solar installations.

Vancouver’s New Permits Discourage Rooftop Solar

According to a chart on SPEC’s website, the emissions from PV solar are about half of those from BC Hydro’s present electricity mix. This was partially due to fact some of our electricity is imported from Alberta (which derives 67% of its electricity from coal).

One of the interesting aspects of this chart is that it utilized emissions data from manufacturing and end of life for solar, but not the corresponding figures for hydro. There are also emissions from building a dam and associated aspects like road construction. A considerable amount of CO2 is released when you submerge miles of boreal forest, as will occur if the site C dam goes forward.

Photo Credit: Solar Photovoltaic Installation on Bowen Island, BC completed by Vancouver Renewable Energy (www.vrec.ca) By Rob Baxter via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)
Photo Credit: Solar Photovoltaic Installation on Bowen Island, BC completed by Vancouver Renewable Energy (www.vrec.ca) By Rob Baxter via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)

This prompted a few questions to BC Hydro, which has not responded to requests for information. They have not disclosed any data about the emissions created during the construction phase of a dam. Nor did  they produce figures pertaining to the amount of electricity they obtain from Alberta, or how much of it is produced by fossil fuels.

However it would seem that PV solar has substantially less than half the emissions of BC Hydro’s present electricity mix. Thus it is in Vancouver’s interest to encourage homeowners and businesses to adopt this technology.

Breakdown Of The Specific Costs

A spokesperson for the city of Vancouver emailed, “Toronto has a much higher electricity cost and offers a ‘feed-in tariff’ where homeowners can sell power back to their energy utility.  These factors make the demand for solar energy systems far greater than in Vancouver. However, the economics of solar systems are rapidly changing (the cost of solar panels is falling and the cost of power is increasing) and so we anticipate that demand for solar systems in Vancouver will begin to increase and therefore we have begun to research enabling policies. In the meantime, we are working with affected stakeholders to implement best practices that take into consideration local conditions such as seismic impact.”

Photo Credit: nstallation begins on the largest photovoltaic (solar electric) installation in the lower mainland. Located at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, BC. Installation work by Vancouver Renewable Energy ( www.vrec.ca ) By Rob Baxter via Fickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)
Photo Credit: Installation begins on the largest photovoltaic (solar electric) installation in the lower mainland. Located at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, BC. Installation work by Vancouver Renewable Energy ( www.vrec.ca ) By Rob Baxter via Fickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)

A breakdown of the specific costs for that 5 kW photovoltaic system in Vancouver, according to SPEC:

  • Electrical Permit:  $824.00 (this is based on value of work)
  In Toronto there is a flat-fee electrical permit for photovoltaic systems that is:  $282.00


  • Staff time to complete electrical permit: $60.00. 
 In Toronto the cost would be about the same.


  • Building Permit: $225.00
  In Toronto a building permit is not required for flush mount standard PV systems.


  • Staff time to complete paperwork for building permit: $120
  This paperwork includes two agreements to fill out and sign, a site plan and elevation plan drawings.
  In Toronto none of this paperwork is required for standard flush mount PV systems.
  • 

Structural Engineer: $800 This includes a structural engineer inspecting the building and completing various paperwork.
   In Toronto none of this is required for standard flush mount PV systems.
 2″42

When I mentioned these figures to the city, they responded that electrical permits are required in some instances. They also said that building permits vary according to size and mentioned a recent permit that cost $117. This does not contradict the example the SPEC gave, of a $225 building permit for a 5 kW photovoltaic system.

Take Seismic Conditions Into Consideration

“One of the unique factors that Vancouver faces as opposed to other cities is the need to take seismic conditions into consideration. The City requires all engineers who design houses to incorporate earthquake risks into their design. Vancouver has set a higher standard for earthquake design than most other cities for many years,” the spokesperson said.

Photo Credit: Solar photovoltaic grid-tie system on Admiral Seymour Elementary School in Vancouver, BC. Design, consulting and installation by Vancouver Renewable Energy www.vrec.ca By Rob Baxter via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)
Photo Credit: Solar photovoltaic grid-tie system on Admiral Seymour Elementary School in Vancouver, BC. Design, consulting and installation by Vancouver Renewable Energy www.vrec.ca By Rob Baxter via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)

“As the houses are designed by an engineer, any modification to the structure which add loads to the roof (such as installing solar panels) must be checked by an engineer as this creates a larger earthquake load. Added weight on roof could impact structure’s ability to withstand a possible earthquake as well as increasing load on roof which could increase safety concerns should a roof collapse due to an earthquake – which is why engineer is required.”

However the city of Colwood, on Vancouver Island, is also in an earthquake zone and  does not require a building permit for solar if

  1. The PV systems distributed weight does not exert a load greater than 5lbs/sq. ft. on the roof,
  2. The system connection to the roof results in the each point of connection being less than 50lbs.

For Solar to Really Take Off

There have been around 400 installations in the province during the last decade.  Baxter put up some of the first panels in Vancouver and has seen the pace of grow installations grow from one to a dozen jobs a year.

What would it take for solar to really take off in Vancouver?

“The best thing would for BC to have a feed-n tariff like they have in Ontario, but that has to come from the province” said Baxter.

Top of Page Photo Credit: Solar Photovoltaic Installation in Tsawwassen, BC completed by Vancouver Renewable Energy (www.vrec.ca) . By Rob Baxter via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)

One thought on “Vancouver’s New Permits Discourage Rooftop Solar”

  1. Thank you for this Roy.

    I just wanted to respond to a couple of the points that the City of Vancouver made.

    “… the structure which add loads to the roof (such as installing solar panels) …”

    But solar photovoltaic modules do not always add loads to the roof. For example solar shingles replacing roofing shingles would be the same or even a lower load to the roof. That is why other municipalities only require structural evaluation if the photovoltaic modules exceed a certain weight threshold.

    The City does not require structural evaluation every time a building is re-roofed or has moss build up even those these might result in small changes to the load on the roof. The wieght of photovoltaic modules is less than the weight of 2 layers of asphalt shingles so it is tivial and might have less of an impact than some re-roofing jobs.

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