The report highlights the variances in fees associated with two types of solar power installations: a rooftop residential installation that generates three kilowatts of power, and a commercial version that generates 131kW of power. To make a reasonable comparison between cities, the Sierra Club offered each city’s planning department schematics for similar systems. The resulting fees, however, were anything but similar.
Now, their report has caused cities in the area to reexamine their fees. In at least one case, the city has reduced its residential fees for the solar unit by more than half and cut the cost of commercial units by more than 85%.
The Sierra Club says that “unreasonably” high fees keep more people from adopting the energy-saving, green technology, and is also a violation of state law. “Charging more for solar permits than the reasonable costs to administer them violates California Government Code,” said the Sierra Club in a press release issued September 13, 2011. “Fees associated with building inspections and building permits ‘shall not exceed the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service.'”
Fees assessed for a commercial solar unit in the City of Sacramento topped the list at $19,347.46, while the City of Citrus Heights had the most fee-intensive program for residential units at $733.54.
In June 2011, analysts from the Sierra Club estimated that the actual cost of permitting and inspecting residential solar panel units to be about $305, and commercial systems $1,303. The City of Sacramento was the only city charging fees in line with the Sierra Club estimates for residential units, while Elk Grove came closest for the commercial applications, charging only $150 more than their estimates.
However, now that their study has been completed and published, the Sierra Club is trying to help reduce city and county fees.
In Citrus Heights, for instance, fees have been cut substantially. Before the report, the city charged $733.54 for a residential installation. That cost has been reduced to $300.00. Commercial fees went from $11,604.95 to $1,590.00.
Rancho Cordova is also re-examining its fees, according to the Sierra Club’s dynamically updated online file.
All of the cities included in the study participated in a Sacramento Municipal Utility District program in 2007 that streamlined the permitting process for installing solar panels by eliminating fees and creating permitting submittal guidelines. That program expired in 2010, and all cities had the option of reinstating their previous fees, or adopting new ones.
For more information regarding the fees and the Sierra Club’s Solar Panel Permitting Fee Campaign, you can visit this website.