Sonoma County streamlines solar permitting

Solar permitting throughout Sonoma County is now a singular process with one fee, solar advocates announced.

The new, simplified rules were produced by a county-wide permitting committee working with local building inspectors, fire safety officials, and solar installers for over a year, according to Alison Healy, executive director of Solar Sonoma, a nonprofit, public-private consortium.

Sonoma County residents and solar installers have long complained about cumbersom requirements for rooftop solar systems, involving separate fees and paperwork for each agency.

For some of the 10 county jurisdictions, separate building and fire department requirements have now been eliminated entirely; for all jurisdictions a single fee and form, downloadable from the computer, is in place.

“This is part of a nationwide campaign to reduce the ‘soft costs’ -- apart from hardware and equipment -- of solar,” said Ms. Healy.

Solar Sonoma County (solarsonomacounty.org) is part of a larger, regional collaboration funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by 2020. A nationwide permitting study released by the DOE in December 2012 found that the difficulty of the permitting processes adds to the cost of solar and limits the solar market.

Sonoma County already had a uniform residential solar permit in place within its jurisdiction, but it was inconsistently used by building officials and solar installers. New California State Fire Marshall guidelines introduced in 2010 added to the confusion, said Jeff Mathias of Synergy Solar, a member of the Solar Sonoma County board of directors who participated on the permitting committee.

"The original uniform permit needed to be redesigned in light of new state requirements and technologies, as well as rising political pressure," he said.

The revised Residential Rooftop PV Permit and Guidelines for Sonoma County now include:Fulfillment of both state and local fire official requirements towards greater standardization and safety.Elimination of the 5-kilowatt size limit for residential, roof-top systems in response to solar installation trends concerning typical project size and emerging technologies.Accommodates solar projects for multiple residential units to enable solar for garages, barns, or other outbuildings.Enhanced usability with a new, electronically available (pdf) and simplified format.More useful, efficient worksheet that includes system performance and AC/DC disconnect data and signage.

"This represents an important shift for Sonoma County," said Mr. Mathias. “For the first time installers, building inspectors, and fire officials are all on the same page. We wanted to set the bar high."


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