California legislator introduces bill requiring large counties to use instant online solar permitting

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 379, the Solar Access Act, to the Senate. SB 379 implements instant, online solar permitting in counties with more than 150,000 residents. This legislation will significantly shorten approval times for residential solar and solar-plus storage systems, lower permitting costs for local governments and homeowners, and help California meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. SB 379 is co-sponsored by SPUR and Environment California.

Climate change is a serious threat and California must accelerate the transition to clean energy to reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2045. The widespread installation of residential solar systems has helped California achieve these goals. While the cost of solar technology has fallen in recent years, the high installation costs — including local permitting and inspection requirements — have remained prohibitive for many. Delays due to long wait times for permits and inspections are also impacting solar deployment across the state. Automated permits solve both problems; the Solar Access Act will enable California to implement a timely and comprehensive solution.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a project within the US Department of Energy, has established a free-to-use program to support local governments with residential solar and solar energy-plus storage systems that allow it. SolarAPP+ provides a web-based portal that streamlines and automates permit assessments, and can be easily implemented into existing local government permitting software. The Solar Access Act requires counties with more than 150,000 residents, and all cities within those counties, to immediately implement online permits for solar and solar energy + storage systems, through programs such as SolarAPP+. The requirement will take effect from September 30, 2024 for cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants and on September 30, 2023 for cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. The California Energy Commission (CEC) is preparing a program to deploy $20 million in grants to help cities and counties adopt online automated permitting systems such as SolarAPP+.

NREL first introduced SolarAPP+ in late 2020 and has slowly expanded the capabilities of the program. Many local jurisdictions, including Pleasant Hill, Sonoma County, San Jose and Los Angeles, have already begun implementing automated permits with great success. Pleasant Hill has reduced their average permit review time to zero days (same day approval) since the introduction of SolarAPP+ for instant automated permit granting.

“When regulations make it unnecessarily difficult for people to quickly install solar and storage systems, it hurts everyone,” Senator Wiener said. “It hurts those who want to install solar energy. And it harms communities across California, which are negatively impacted by climate change. We need to make it easier for people to use renewable energy – that’s just a good idea. Speeding up solar permits is something we can do to make this a reality.”

News from Senator Wiener’s office

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