Excessive Permit Fees Hinder Renewable Energy Development

Most cities in the Rocky Mountain front range surrounding Denver are not doing much to stimulate Governor Ritter’s, “New Energy Economy.” Homeowners in the city of Lakewood, Colorado are charged $761 in permit related fees when investing in a 3 kilowatt (kW) PV system for their home. In Aurora, Colorado permit related fees are $1,350 for a 3.2 kW system. Those costs are equal to several years of those investor’s energy savings. In contrast, Denver residents, installing the same size systems, pay a total of about $100, less than 3 months worth of energy savings.

Permit-related fees include zoning and plan reviews, building department fees and use taxes. City department staffs are highly qualified and provide valuable services for which they must be paid. Use taxes are equally important in that those taxes are used to pay municipality infrastructure expenses. Indeed, if a proposed project will increase the demand on a city’s infrastructure, use taxes should apply.

The infrastructure expenses of city, state and federal governments, again, paid for by taxes, include the mitigation of community environmental and health-related issues. According to several reports, most notably the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), co-winners of the Nobel peace prize with Al Gore, those governments will face a myriad of financial and logistical challenges as a result of impending climate change that is, according to thousands of scientists, predominantly being caused by the use of fossil fuels.

The IPCC report says that here in the west we are very likely to experience water shortages due to extended drought conditions and less snow pack in the mountains. Colorado’s front range cities are already extremely competitive in their bid to capture precious water resources for their growing cities before it can flow downstream to other mega cities like Los Angeles. Water shortages will force local, state and federal government agencies to invest heavily in water storage and conservation practices as well as in the development of water reclamation and irrigation efficiency programs and rain water harvesting.

IPCC claims that the elderly, the very young and the poor, those most in need of city and other governmental assistance, will be the ones who are most affected by increased temperatures. Declining air quality resulting from increased ground level ozone created in heat waves and particulate pollution from longer and more intense fire seasons will cause more cardio and respiratory illnesses resulting in the need for increased emergency contingency plans, again, governmental infrastructure expenses that must be paid for with taxes.

Solar energy investments, reducing the use of fossil fuels, will reduce those infrastructure demands, thereby lowering governmental operating expenses. Additionally, solar investments will lessen the need for cities and utilities to build expensive, tax payer-subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, reducing the security related expenses of protecting those centralized power sources. Once again, governmental operating expenses and subsidies are paid for by tax payer dollars and therefore, by lowering government operating expenses and reducing the need to build more power plants, solar investments will lead to less taxes that need to be collected. This should be a non-partisan issue. Everyone wants lower taxes.

Thousands of Coloradoans and perhaps millions of Americans are willing to take responsibility for providing their children and future generations with a cleaner, safer, more sustainable energy future by investing in solar. Since those investments have positive effects on the environment and our community by reducing pollution, greenhouse gases and taxes, the investors should not be penalized. Indeed, existing, tax-paid subsidies that are currently being given to fossil fuel companies with $8-10 billion quarterly profits should be used to subsidize building permit fees for such projects and investments. Clean, renewable energy is the path away from our “addiction to oil” and other non-renewable energy resources. Apparently, they get that in Denver. My hope is that, if enough people will point these issues out to their elected city officials, they’ll get it in the suburbs of Denver and beyond.

Mike Morton began installing solar in the late 70’s and is now a sales and design consultant with Real Goods Solar in Colorado.