Proposed California Bill Looks to Fast-track Residential Solar Permits

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California is known for its groundbreaking climate and renewable energy initiatives. The newly proposed bill SB 617 is a succession of such initiatives related to solar energy. Introduced by Senator Scott D. Wiener, it aims to allow California residents to receive quick online approval for residential solar systems and solar storage units.

The new bill is an effort to overhaul the existing system. The current procedure is tedious and time-consuming. Lengthy administrative policies and delays in the inspection of new solar systems hinder the process. Hopefully, online approval will decrease the time, red-tape, and high cost of local permitting.

Every major California city and county will adhere to the bill's policies. The implementation will help local authorities automate compliance verification and the issuance of permits. As a result, consumers will get quick online approvals to install solar systems and energy units.

Large cities and counties with a population above 50,000 should implement the online system by September 30, 2022. Medium-size towns and counties are given a one-year extension until September 30, 2023, to get compliant. The law will not apply to localities that have a population of fewer than 10,000 individuals.

The Energy Commission will fund the Solar Access Act program. According to the guidelines, the bill requires the Energy Commission to devise policies by July 1, 2022. Local electric and gas supply companies will provide financial and technical assistance for the project. Accordingly, each city is liable to publish statistics for the number of permits issued in a given period.

Similarly, local authorities will ensure that remote inspections will cost less than on-site inspections. Similarly, the video or related evidence assessment must not take more time than the time required for physical inspections. Anyone interested in getting the approval can send a recorded or a live video. In some instances, officials can also accept photos of the residential photovoltaic solar energy system and the battery.

Any city or county, which fails to implement provisions of the proposed bill will not get future funding. Some school districts and local agencies will also receive reimbursement for specific costs.

The SolarApp for Solar Access Act

To help cities meet the bill's requirements, the U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory will offer a SolarApp system. The web-based portal, SolarApp, is short for Solar Automated Permit Processing.

The SolarAPP is made for the government by a consortium of public and private companies. The management system is free of cost to local governments, and it provides them the ability to grant quick online approvals. It will likely replace the existing AHJ, Authority-having-jurisdiction system, which is not adequate for processing permit applications.

SolarApp has an intuitive code compliance system that automatically scans the solar contractor's input to determine compliance. It offers a complete checklist for officials to review if the equipment adheres to the guidelines. The app will also accelerate permit approval by scanning application errors.

Meeting Energy and Climate Goals Through S.B.617

While solar energy provides 20% of California's power, it is not enough to reach the energy and climate goals. The State regularly faces power shutdowns and power shortage issues. According to stakeholders, the proposed legislation will help California reach its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2045.

The bill will also offer a streamlined course of action for the city government to tackle environmental issues. Speaking on the subject, Senator Scott Weiner reemphasized the need to expand solar energy systems and energy storage units. According to him, California has already seen successful examples of automated solar permitting on a local level. It's time to take the next step by expanding the system throughout the State.

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