State Director, Environment California
State Director, Environment California
Pleasant Hill to become first CA city to launch new expedited solar permitting application
Pleasant Hill, Calif. – The City of Pleasant Hill on Wednesday became the first municipality in California, and one of the first cities in the nation, to formally launch SolarAPP+, an automated application to speed up and error-proof the process for permitting new residential rooftop solar and storage systems. This plan will not only expedite but also lower costs for solar installation.
To date, installing rooftop solar is about twice as expensive in the United States as it is in such country as Australia or Germany — despite similar wages and equipment costs. This difference is caused by the “soft costs” associated with residential solar installations, which includes paying for a local building department permit. For a solar customer, these added expenses can amount to as much as $1 per watt of the installation, or $5,000 for a typical residential solar system.
The SolarAPP+ program offers an integral way to cut permitting costs. Developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a project within the U.S. Department of Energy, SolarAPP+ provides a web-based portal that streamlines and automates permit reviews, which makes it easy to integrated into existing local government permitting software.
NREL introduced SolarAPP+ in late 2020 and, since then, has rapidly expanded the program’s capabilities. Pleasant Hill is the first California city to adopt SolarAPP+.
“Making the permitting process easier for these projects is a win/win for Pleasant Hill,” said Pleasant Hill Mayor Sue Noack. “It will allow our residents to go solar more efficiently, and will free up staff to focus on other permitting areas.”
SolarAPP+’s launch in Pleasant Hill serves as a key proof of concept for the ability of cities to adopt automated solar permitting, The Solar Access Act (SB 617), which overwhelmingly passed through two Senate policy committees in April, would require automated solar permitting in cities and counties over a certain size. This will allow for on-the-spot approvals of residential solar and solar-plus-storage systems. It would also greatly decrease wait times, cut permitting costs for local governments and homeowners, and help California meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
“SB 617 streamlines the permitting process for residential rooftop solar and energy storage, allowing more Californians to access clean energy,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, the bill’s author. “This legislation will help California achieve our climate goals more quickly and cost-effectively and allow more homeowners to participate in our clean energy future. I applaud Pleasant Hill for being ahead of the curve.”
Other legislators, like Assemblymember Phil Ting, agree.
“With a $20 million investment in automated solar permitting, the state could save California homeowners up to $3 billion in permit-related costs over the coming decade. SB 617 is not only a win for our climate, but also our residents’ pocketbooks,” he said. “It’s a model that more cities should follow,”
Widespread installation of residential solar systems has helped push California toward its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. However, while the cost of solar technology has decreased in recent years, the high price associated with installation — including local permitting — have remained prohibitive for many. Delays due to long permit processing times are also hurting solar implementation across the state. Automated permitting solves both of these issues; the passage of the Solar Access Act in the state legislature and the local implementation of SolarAPP+, headlined by cities like Pleasant Hill, will allow California to deliver a timely and comprehensive solution.
“By implementing SolarAPP+, Pleasant Hill is at the forefront of a movement to reduce the barriers homeowners face installing solar and solar plus storage systems,” said Nick Josefowitz, chief of policy at SPUR, a policy research organization based in the Bay Area, and co-sponsor of SB 617. “This will help reduce emissions, save homeowners thousands of dollars, and generate significant new revenue for the city.”
Pleasant Hill’s leadership is also being celebrated by the environmental community.
“As California faces a worsening drought, more heatwaves and the prospect of catastrophic wildfires for yet another year, the need for cities and the state to take action on climate couldn’t be clearer,” said Laura Deehan, state director for Environment California. “We hope that Pleasant Hill is the first of many cities to help their residents go solar by automating the permitting process with SolarApp+.”
For installers across the state, this streamlining will be a game changer.
“Using SolarApp should also help rein in the ‘soft costs’ of going solar, which could have a big impact on solar deployment. “Cost is one of the biggest barriers to going solar,” said Igor Tregub, senior policy advisor at the California Solar and Storage Association, an organization representing hundreds of contractors who build more than 430 rooftop solar systems every day in California. “Already, rooftop solar is growing fastest in low- and working-class communities and by lowering costs further, we can put solar in the hands of more people.”
Through research, education and advocacy, SPUR works to create an equitable, sustainable and prosperous Bay Area. For over 100 years, SPUR has brought people together from across the political spectrum to develop solutions to the big problems cities and the region face. Learn more at www.spur.org
Environment California is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmentcalifornia.org
The California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA) has advanced the common interest of the solar and storage industry for over 40 years, making California the most robust market in the U.S. The association is the state’s largest clean energy business group with over 600 member companies, primarily small businesses based in communities throughout the state, that manufacture, design, install, finance and provide other resources to the growing local solar and storage market in California. Learn more at www.calssa.org