Blogs, Solar

SoCal Governments Still Milking the Solar Cow

The solar industry constantly hears about how their business could not exist without government subsidies.

Well, in southern California it’s the other way around. The industry is subsidizing government.

A Sierra Club survey has revealed an enormous variation in fees charged by local governments to inspect new solar arrays.

In some cases they are charging more than three times the possible cost of inspecting a residential array. In other cases they’re charging up to 20 times the cost of inspecting a commercial array.

Worse, there is little consistency. Rolling Hills Estates, for instance, was charging over $45,000 to inspect and approve a commercial rooftop array. But it was charging just $485, enough to meet costs, inspect and approve a residential installation.

By contrast, some towns, like Manhattan Beach, are approving both types of installation at no charge.

Some of the highest prices for permits were found in the San Gabriel Valley, which is now residential but a century ago was dotted with oil wells. Even here, however, there is no consistency. Pasadena, which is in the valley, had some of the lowest costs recorded.

The report is a follow-up to a statewide report issued two years ago, which was followed by some towns publicly reducing their fees. But the survey found other towns also quietly increased them.

All this illustrates one of the biggest problems solar power faces — inconsistency. There are few standards for either contracts, panel sizes, or panel connections. There are no standards on fees.

All this will leave some prospects stuck half-way down the sales funnel, and others running to the media in five or 10 years with horror stories of uneconomic systems hampering their ability to sell property.

The industry remains behind the curve on standards, best practices and government relations.