Monday, April 25, 2011

California City May Lower Permit Fees for Solar

Vallejo charges considerably more than two dozen other area cities to install solar panels, and that bothers at least one area solar nonprofit company.

But officials said Vallejo, which charges more than eight times what San Francisco does, is re-examining its rates and could soon reduce them.

Vallejo ranked as the highest cost for solar installation in a 27-city comparison undertaken by GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit Oakland-based organization focused on job training, energy conservation and cost savings for low income applicants.

Vallejo came to the nonprofit's attention earlier this month when GRID Alternatives installed solar panels on the roofs of three single-home properties citywide, with building permits running about $1,500 for each project.

Nearby Benicia waives its fees for nonprofits, San Francisco charged $174, Napa $390, and Sacramento $667, by way of comparison. On average, GRID Alternatives' study shows, permitting costs in the comparison cities run about $308.

Since 2007, following the Vallejo City Council's mandate, city fees have required full cost recovery for city services provided, offering little or no subsidies or incentives, Assistant City Manager-Community Development Craig Whittom said.

As it stands, the city assesses its building fee for solar installation based on the value of the project's costs, prior to solar rebates, Vallejo Chief Building Official Gary West said. If the City Council sets a policy that allows for low-income homeowner or nonprofit exemptions, fee waivers or fee caps, city fees could come down, he added.

"When you do solar, it's so spiked, because it's such a high product cost," West said.

Mary Biasotti, Bay Area Regional Director for GRID Alternatives, wrote Whittom, and asked the city to reconsider its building permit costs. Attaching comments from a Sierra Club chapter, Biasotti's letter noted that a pitfall of the so-called valuation method that Vallejo uses is that the "more a homeowner contributes to a city's renewable energy supply, the more that homeowner must sacrifice financially."

Concerns from Vallejo City Council members, business owners, GRID Alternatives and others' have not gone unheeded, West and Whittom said.

"Currently, we are working on a new fee study, which, based on the information I'm looking at, we're actually expecting the solar fee costs to come down," West said.

He expects to make a new solar fee recommendation to the council by as early as June.

Whittom said that fee subsidies or waivers are likely to be recommended for both solar and seismic retrofitting projects, in order to provide an draw to the community.

"Clearly, we're taking a much broader view .. in this update, compared to 2007, in incentivizing economic development," Whittom said.



Solar said...

Computing solar PV permit fees for standard rooftop residential PV systems:

A fixed fee approach for residential systems is appropriate because the time required for plan review and inspection is neither size dependent nor valuation based. The time required for review of a small PV system is basically the same as for a larger system. The fee assessed should be based on actual cost recovery, which is best derived by assessing the review times required multiplied by the jurisdiction’s true billable hourly rate.
1) Determine the staff time required to review and inspect an average project that will cover your costs 80% of the time, assuming a well trained staff and a professional permit submittal/installation.
2) The average plan review time should allow for one 2nd cycle minor correction review, but should be based on only the number of required inspections. Additional plan reviews or additional inspections should be assessed additional fees based on actual incurred costs. This fee methodology rewards proficient customers with fees that reflect actual costs and does not subsidize the less competent.
3) To estimate the permit fee multiply the billable hourly rates for each job function by the staff time required for each task, that will cover 80% of your customer submittals.
4) For exceptional cases that do not conform to the norm simply charge by the hour for the staff time for both the plan reviews and inspections based on the billable hourly rate for the job function.
The assessed plan review and permit fee should be a fixed fee that does not vary with system size or value (within reason) for rooftop, residential, grid-tied PV systems up to 15 kW using the above principles and based on these assumptions:
• A professional installation where the permit application meets permit submittal guidelines.
• If your organization is capable of performing over the counter, same day, permit issuance, this should be instituted. This can significantly reduce administrative processing, saving valuable staff time compared to a permit that is taken in for later review!
• Plan checkers and inspectors are trained in PV installations.
• A fully burdened realistic billable hourly rate to account for total incurred costs. This billable hourly rate varies significantly among municipalities, thus each city should use its own rate to determine a fee level that is the most appropriate for cost recovery!
Reasonable processing times based on survey results from different jurisdictions should be approximately as follows. Based on the above assumptions and suggested permit fee calculation methodology this reasonable PV permit fee is computed as:
• 45 minutes for plan check X $140 per hour for plan reviewer = $105
• 1 hour for inspections X $125 per hour for inspector = $125
• 45 minutes for administration tasks X $100 per hour for permit tech = $75
Total reasonable mid range PV permit fee: $305 (computed: $105 + $125 + $75).

Unknown said...

A new report has been published for the Sierra Club’s Commercial and Residential PV permit fee campaign for Solano County. See:

This web link has an executive summary of the report that shows fee rankings for all jurisdictions in Solano County.