Can standardized permitting reduce solar power costs?

Installation costs for solar panels can be reduced by 50 cents per watt by synchronizing the solar permitting process from town to town. According to recent reports, discrepancies have been found in permitting that can cost consumers up to $2,500 on a 5-kilowatt rooftop solar system. It noted that all the wasted money from allowing these inefficiencies to continue “looks like a $1 billion tax on solar over the next five years.”

The cost is due to many factors, including time spent by installers in obtaining the building, zoning and fire department permits, waiting for inspection and dealing with any changes that may arise.

Solar organizations and firms throughout the country have been pleading for an improved permitting process in the U.S. The DOE SunShot program is seeking to lower solar power to $1.00 per watt installed. However, this can’t happen without a well-planned and thorough standardized permitting process.

Finally, last week, the state of Vermont took the first steps to make this a reality.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed the Vermont Energy Act of 2011 (H56). The law allows for net metered solar power in Vermont, as well as executing a pioneering permitting process for small solar systems (less than 5 kilowatts). This model can greatly reduce the “soft costs” of residential solar.

For small-scale customers, the streamlined process consists of filling out a registration document and a certificate of compliance with grid connection requirements. The local utility will be given ten days to present any interconnection problems.

Vermont made it clear that local permitting reform with the same standards across the board is possible on the state level.

Germany has reported one million new home solar power installations within the past two years. The total number of homes to go solar in the United States has just passed 120,000. Germany has cut out all the red tape and their permitting paperwork load is a small few pages. They also enjoy a 40 percent installation price advantage over the United States

Through standardized permitting, solar power will be even more affordable and accessible for American homeowners. Vermont has paved the way to make it easier for more U.S. households to generate clean energy from the sun and greatly reduce their energy costs over time.

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