San Diego Solar Permit Fees Controversy

California solar incentives have been among the strongest in thenation for years, leading the pack much of the time.

Distributed byutilities rather than by a state body, the California SolarInitiative’s rebate has made it possible for the state to makeincredible progress towards its goal of 1,940 MW of installed solarcapacity by 2016 with solar installations distributed geographicallyacross the state. In October 2009, the program had reached 509 MW, and demand isn’t slowing down. Southern California and the San Diego area have been booming right along with the rest.

So what could slow this freight train of solar growth? Not much,frankly, but the newly increased solar permitting fees in San Diego areat the very least causing a backlash of bad PR for the city, which prides itself (PDF) on being one of the leading solar cities nation wide. The Union-Tribune reported today on last month’s rate hikes, now that solar pros have had a chance to absorb the changes and react:

The cost of getting a solar installation plan approvedand the system inspected has risen to $565 from $93. The increasereflects a policy change by the city to quit subsidizing solarinstallations and adjust fees to reflect what it costs to issue thepermits, officials say…[T]he revised fees are part of an overall effortto make sure people pay what it costs the city to provide services.They are not related to the city’s general fund.

“Weare encouraging solar,” [Mayor Jerry] Sanders said. “But one of thethings we’ve learned is we get sued when we subsidize one type ofdevelopment from other developers.”

Bethat as it may, San Diego solar installers are not happy with eitherthe increased fees or increased wait times for permit approval (aproblem the city insists is temporary). There is also a problem withthe logic of Sanders’ argument: if solar is being subsidized across theboard–which it is, with programs like the solar rebate and new,innovative residential financing models sponsored by the city–thenputting permitting fees on level with other industries does notnecessarily follow. Furor over the change will likely die down as theindustry adjusts, and as San Diego solar installers build the increasedcost for permitting into the business models. This may drive the costup on the consumer end with slightly higher quotes, but a few hundreddollars increase is just a fraction of the total cost of an averageCalifornia solar installation.

Betweenrebates, tax credits and creative financing options, going solar in thestate is still an excellent investment. The San Diego solar market mayexperience a brief, disgruntled drop in growth, but the city is stillsupporting its solar industry whole-heartedly and we expectinstallations to continue to climb.

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