Decisions made by local governments can have a tremendous impact on the cost of solar installations. The price for solar has declined drastically over the past few years, making solar an attractive investment option for homeowners and businesses. However, local rules and regulations can quickly add to the "soft costs" of solar. In fact, recent studies show that local government rules and procedures can have an enormous impact on the out-of-pocket price paid by the solar consumer—adding around $2,500 to the cost of a residential solar installation. For an average residential system, that can amount to nearly half of the total installed system cost!
Across the United States, solar customers and installers face an unpredictable patchwork of permitting, zoning, and interconnection rules from more than 18,000 cities and 3,000 utilities, all of which take considerable time and money to navigate. Despite the rigorous national standards for safety and code compliance for solar, there is no standardized national approach to local solar processes. Every town, county, state, and utility service territory has a different set of ordinances, procedures, and regulations.
What can you do?
As a local government, you can join a national effort to cut through the red tape and standardize solar processes. Numerous leading local governments, including six Utah jurisdictions, are turning their attention to how their local rules and regulations impact the soft costs of solar, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative and Rooftop Solar Challenge.
Get Started Today: Simple Steps to Streamline your Local Solar Process
- Learn more about Solar Technologies and Applications
- Follow Best Practices for Solar Permitting
- Adopt the Expedited Solar PV Permit – a Nationally Standardized Solar Permit (for small solar PV systems) developed and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy
- Switch to Online Permitting
- Adopt a Simple Solar Permitting Checklist for Inspectors and Building Officials
- Learn Best Practices for Solar Zoning
- Access Solar Zoning Resources
- Tap into more Solar Resources for Local Governments
- For assistance with solar permitting or zoning efforts in your community, please contact us!
Why does it matter?
|As the cost of solar PV has fallen, solar PV capacity in Utah has risen dramatically.|
The sun rises every day, shining down on more than 200 billion square feet of rooftops across the United States. Tapping into just a fraction of that potential presents an incredible opportunity for communities to meet more of their energy demand from inexhaustible, clean, homegrown solar energy.
Over the past four years, the total cost of an installed solar energy system has decreased by thousands of dollars, making solar an increasingly attractive investment for homeowners and businesses. These price declines, however, are largely attributable to falling solar PV module (or panel) prices, which fell by $2 per watt from 2008 to 2011 and continued to decline through 2012. The hardware costs, or “hard” costs, of solar PV include the panels as well as mounting equipment, inverters, conduit, and wires. While continual improvements and breakthroughs are helping to reduce the hard costs of solar PV, the single biggest challenge to reducing solar prices in the U.S. is the non-hardware costs – or “soft costs.” The “soft costs” of solar are associated with permitting, application approval time, fees, inspections, utility interconnection procedures, zoning variance requests, customer acquisition costs, and other administrative costs, and currently make up at least 30-40% of the total installed cost of rooftop solar PV.
Fortunately, local governments and local officials have the power and ability to cut through red tape, identify areas ripe for standardization, and streamline local solar processes—all of which can make solar more affordable for homeowners and businesses. Adoption of streamlined and standardized processes can help reduce staff-time and resources needed to process solar-related requests. Cutting costs and complexity internally makes for a more cost-effective and efficient local government—an added benefit to taxpayers!
Not only will these concerted efforts lead to greater market certainty and reduced costs for the solar industry and end-users, but communities with solar-friendly rules can better attract economic activity from solar market growth - that means more dollars circulating in the local economy, more revenue, and more jobs.
Lastly, as communities remove barriers to solar adoption, more individuals and businesses will be primed to invest in an inexhaustible, homegrown, secure, and economic energy resource—one that simultaneously improves air and water quality, mitigates risks and costs associated with disruptive climate change, and preserves finite resources for future generations.
With little to lose and a lot to gain, local governments across the country are taking the scissors to solar red tape and empowering their communities with clean, secure, local solar energy.