A quickly growing number of cities along Colorado’s Front Range are attaining the status of “Solar Friendly Community.” On March 22, Lakewood became the latest, achieving a silver level certification under the program. The certification means that the city has taken steps on the Solar Friendly Communities roadmap to make it faster and easier for its citizens and businesses to go solar.
“Lakewood has taken important steps to make it more affordable to install rooftop solar systems,” said Rebecca Cantwell, senior program director for Solar Friendly Communities. “We hope these actions will yield economic and environmental benefits for years to come.”
Lakewood – the city in which SolarReviews is located – is the third city to achieve certification under the program. It will receive a commemorative road sign and a plaque at its city council meeting on March 25 in recognition of its achievement. The program was launched in September 2012 and already three cities in the region have achieved certification. Denver was first, achieving a gold certification (the highest is platinum, which thus far no community has reached) just two months after the program launched. It was followed by Aurora.
The program was developed to cut through the myriad of permitting, inspection and other issues that people face when going solar, to help reduce the costs of solar power. Since the U.S. has no single permitting and inspection process for putting solar on homes or businesses, this means that each jurisdiction—over 4,000—has come up with its own process. This process includes setting its own fees and regulations regarding permitting and inspection, which can mean more than three different inspections from the fire department, building department, the local utility, homeowners’ associations, etc. Sometimes people across the street from one other can face entirely different processes for going solar, too.
The Solar Friendly Communities program is trying to reduce those issues by simplifying the process based on 12 best practices developed after consulting with installers, developers, local officials and others on how to best streamline the process of going solar. The resulting program was developed by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) in partnership with the City and County of Denver, Boulder County and the cities of Fort Collins and Golden, along with Rocky Mountain Institute and the American Solar Energy Society. The program is supported by a Rooftop Solar Challenge grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.
Under the free program, a community can achieve up to 1,600 points for adhering to its best practices, which includes offering a standard, streamlined permitting process for solar. For instance, Denver achieved its gold certification for reducing the time and cost for homeowners to go solar. When Denver was recognized, then COSEIA CEO Neal Lurie said, “We have seen some communities [wait] 20 days to issue a permit and here in Denver they’re able to do it 15 minutes.”
Denver also dramatically reduced the soft costs of permitting and inspection, which average close to $2,500 in some areas across the nation. That’s about 40 percent of a residential system’s costs. “Denver…has been able to reduce permit fees from the state average of about $500 for a solar system on down to $50 for a solar permit.” Lurie said. For that and other efforts Denver achieved a 1,275 points and gold certification under the program.
Lakewood earned 935 points achieving silver certification by providing checklists of requirements, offering over-the-counter permitting and giving a short time window for inspections. “We work hard in Lakewood to ensure that homeowners and businesses can accomplish improvements to their buildings in a timely manner, and this award just shows how responsive we are during the construction process,” said Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy. “I’m also proud that our responsiveness contributes significantly to supporting solar installations, which further the city’s sustainability goals.”
Lakewood and the other cities in the Denver region are helping to lead the way to reducing the costs of solar’s soft costs. As such, COSEIA received a $490,897 Rooftop Solar Challenge grant in December 2011. The grant was aimed at reducing permitting and interconnection costs by 25 percent and has resulted in creation of the Solar Friendly Communities program
By Chris Meehan, writer for SolarReviews