By Roy L Hales
Governor Jerry Brown did not realize how backwards California’s solar regulations were until he visited Germany in the summer of 2013. There were 500 jurisdictions back home, each with its own requirements and charges. Some are models of efficiency. Los Angeles’ web based system can spit out an approval immediately and it only takes a day in San Diego, but there are also jurisdictions where the process drags out over the course of many weeks. As a result, the soft costs of getting a solar system in California can be eight times as they are in Germany. The Germans have a single system for the entire country. Governor Brown was impressed. So impressed that he started making inquiries about how to streamline California’s permitting process. That was how AB 2188 came into being.
California’s senate passed the bill (22 yeas -6 nays -12 abstention) on August 20. It flew through the Assembly (68 – 3 – 8) the following day.
“We don’t want to celebrate too much because it’s not signed, but there is very strong indications that the Governor is going to sign it,” said Adam Gerza, who is both Sullivan Solar Power’s Director of Government Affairs and a Director of California Solar Energy (Calseia). “This is definitely a win for the statewide solar industry.”
Gerza pointed me to Bernadette de Charo, Executive Director of Calseia, as the solar industry’s point person on this bill.
De Charo mentioned how the idea had been Brown’s.
“He started conversations with us and his staff saying, ‘Lets do it, lets do something big.’ That helped bump this sort of perpetual problem and issue up to the top burner,” she said.
They found an assemblyman who had concerns about solar permitting. Verengo Solar told their Assemblyman, Al Muratsuchi, that some of their jobs take 65 days. 64 days to wade through local ordinances, permitting and one day to install the panels. Muratsuchi agreed to author AB 2188.
De Charo says the terms were hammered out by solar contractors from across the state, as well as cities, counties, fire departments and government reps from municipal,county and state levels.
“Not everyone was in support, in fact there was opposition right up to the last day, but we certainly took the time to sit down with them and understand their concerns,” she said.
Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, mentioned opposition from some of the cities that have to deal with the permitting.
“Ultimately they came on, so there wasn’t any opposition in the end,” she added.
“In many ways reducing the soft costs from residential solar installations represents a ‘last frontier’ of overall cost cutting progress. Competition, innovation, economies of scale and familiarity with solar have taken our industry to the point where more residential solar is getting built in California without utility rebates compared to previous years with substantial rebates; this fact alone represents major progress. However, the total installed cost of residential solar in California is still much higher than it should be. We’ve all seen the studies. Make the process of going solar even easier will continue industry growth and job creation, while also providing a valuable tool for local governments,” said Walker Wright, Director of Government Affairs at Sunrun and spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC).
“We are delighted that AB 2188 has been passed. We think this legislation is going to increase rooftop solar in the state. It will reduce the paperwork hurdle without reducing consumer protections and all those other things get with smart permitting,” said Phillips.
“The passage of AB 2188 signifies another major step towards the inevitable growth of solar power as a leading source of energy, here in California and across the country,” said Andrew Birch, Chief Executive Officer, Sungevity, Inc., whose company last year helped champion a streamlined permitting process across nine cities in Northern California. “We applaud the broad coalition of solar advocates, political leaders and consumers, who worked together to pass the bill and in turn have made the widespread deployment of solar faster, easier and more affordable.”
(Image at top of Page: annual “cleaning the solar panels” day – brian kusler, CC by SA, 2.0)