Getting Solar Permits in West Covina Ain’t Easy

I find it quite ironic that the City of West Covinahas the Sun in their city seal because there is one thing I canguarantee you, West Covina does not support solar energy.

I learnedthis the hard way through the miserable process of working with CityHall to obtain a permit to install solar panels in my backyard. I wasborn and raised in West Covina and had a great experience the 26 yearsI have lived in this city, although that changed in a heartbeat when Ibegan working with the city on our project, the battle of the solar panel brands.

AllI wanted to do was install a few solar panels, using UL listed partsand a very popular pre-engineered ground mount called GroundTrac madeby ProSolar that has been permitted all over the US. When I firststarted the project I thought obtaining the permit would be a breezesince we’ve helped many of our customers secure permits for theirprojects. Plus, I had Dennis Epp of Heritage Solar wet stamp the plan set.

Dennis is a well respected electrical engineer, C-10 contractor, and NABCEP Certified Solar Installer and his companyis a top solar contractor in Southern California. Going into theproject I figured the City of West Covina would be appreciative of ahomegrown citizen putting together such an important project that wouldhelp solar energy move forward, but boy I was wrong.

I was confident our plan set was in good order before submitting it, because I googled "West Covina photovoltaic permit" and found a document on titled, Basic Information Required for Photovoltaic Plan Check Submittal.

Isubmitted the three copies of the plan set on December 8th and wasinstantly approved by the planning department. When I got the Plans toBuilding and Engineering, that’s where things started to get rocky.

Theywanted a fee to "check my plan" and if I wanted an expedited check Iwould have to pay an even higher fee. I paid $166.50 for the "expeditedplan check" which guaranteed me a response on my project within 7working days, in our case that would be December 21st, since the citydoes not work on Friday. On the 6th the working day, I stopped inunexpectedly to check on the status of my project and they told me theplan checker had not even looked at our plans yet, at that point Icould smell the trouble ahead of me.

One of the plan sets wesubmitted went to the West Covina Fire Department. They called me onDecember 15th and told me they approved the plans, although I wouldhave to pay them $200 to receive it and submit it back to Building& Engineering.

On December 22nd at 9:46a, the 8th working day,a day late I get a call from Building & Engineering departmentinforming me to come pickup my plans. When I received the plans Inoticed the plan checker had made over 30 correction requests, now ifthey were reasonable requests I would have not been so aggravated, butin our case the majority of the requests he made were already in theplan set!

Also the plan checkers requests were made in sloppyhandwriting, which made it even more time consuming to decipher thesilly requests. At that point, putting the facts together, I realizedthat the plan checker had rushed through our plans because heprocrastinated till the 7th working day to check our plans, howfrustrating! Contacting the plan checker or meeting with him face toface was nearly impossible since he was always "in the field" or notworking and he never replied to any of my emails. He did call me onceto discuss the validity of his requests and the conversation was verydefensive versus collaborating with me to get our plans approved.

Tomake a long story short, after going back and forth with the Buildingand Engineering for 6 working days, they issued me the permit onDecember 30th and charged me another $457 for obtaining the Buildingand Electrical permit. The entire process took a strenuous 12 workingdays. We’re not launching a rocket to the moon! I’m just trying toinstall a few solar panels, this project should have taken no more thana couple hours to approve and should have been done over the counterwith minimal fees!

To go solar City of West Covina charged me:

"Expedited" Plan Check Fee – $166.50
Fire Department Fee – $200.00
Acquiring the Permit – $457.90
Total $824.50

Shameon you City of West Covina for putting me through 12 days of non-senseand extorting $824.50 from me for doing the RIGHT thing. Encouragingthe adoption of solar power is critical to lift our economy out of therecession because our industry creates green jobs and wouldn’t youagree that energy is a huge problem for the entire world?

SolarPower is such an important element to both social and economic progressand through this project I’ve realized that the primary road blockslies within our own communities. It was extremely annoying to see otherpeople acquire permits to install gas water heaters or even upgradetheir electric service to pull more AMPS with ease, especially whenthose activities are much more dangerous than installing solar panels.Unfortunately, what that means is the process will be much easier ifyou want to increase your energy consumption, but if you want to beproducer and contribute to the grid, then you’ll have to pay a lot andjump through hoops.

What’s next? We’ll after the city comes toinspect all the digging we have done, then we can proceed to build outthe solar array. I have a meeting with Congresswomen Dr. Judy Chu,to share my horror story of going solar in the 32nd congressionaldistrict and on January 19th, I will be speaking at the West CovinaCity Council meeting to inform them they’re in clear violation ofCalifornia Civil Code 714, also known as the California Solar RightsAct of 1978, a little known law that is lightly enforced but preventsany city within California to make the process of going solarunreasonably difficult or expensive.

I hope by sharing this experience I can make the process of going solar easier for the next person. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world" and I intend to do that by enforcing the California Solar Rights Act of 1978 on any city that is making the process of going solar unreasonable for anyone.

Original Article on Go Green Solar


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