Solar Access Act overcomes key committee hurdle.

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SB 617 requires California cities to provide online, instant solar permitting to streamline inspection and approval

Environment California

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s legislation, Senate Bill 617, the Solar Access Act, has passed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee by a bipartisan vote of 12-2. SB 617 implements automated solar permitting in counties with a population over 150,000. This will allow for on-the-spot approvals of residential solar and solar-plus-storage systems, which will greatly decrease wait times, cut permitting costs for local governments and homeowners, and help California meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. 

The effects of climate change have never been clearer, and California must accelerate its transition to clean energy in order to meet its target to become carbon neutral by 2045. Widespread installation of residential solar systems has helped push California towards these goals. However, while the cost of solar technology has decreased in recent years, the high costs 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 Solar Access Act will allow California to implement a timely and comprehensive solution.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a project within the U.S. Department of Energy, has created a free-to-use program to support local governments with residential solar and solar-plus-storage system permitting. SolarAPP+ provides a web-based portal that streamlines and automates permit reviews, and can be easily implemented into existing local government permitting software. The Solar Access Act requires counties with populations over 150,000 to provide an online, instant permitting process like SolarAPP+. In cities with more than 50,000 residents, automated permitting must be implemented by September 30, 2022, and in cities with less than 50,000 residents, it will be required by September 30, 2023.  It also authorizes the California Energy Commission to provide technical assistance and grant funding for implementation. Funding will be determined upon appropriation.

NREL first introduced SolarAPP+ in late 2020 and has slowly expanded the program’s capabilities. Pleasant Hill is the first city in California to adopt SolarAPP+ and has already begun processing permits. San Jose also uses online solar permitting, and has seen a 600 percent increase in approvals since upgrading in 2016. 

SB 617 is co-sponsored by SPUR and Environment California. Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is a principal co-author of the bill. Senators Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) are co-authors.

“California leads the nation in climate-focused innovation, but we have more work to do when it comes to implementation,” Senator Wiener said. “The science is clear on our immediate need for increased renewable energy output, and the Solar Access Act will make residential solar installation quicker, easier and cheaper than ever.”

“With SB 617, we have an extraordinary opportunity to align resources and policy solutions in pursuit of the state’s clean energy future,” said Nick Josefowitz, Chief of Policy at SPUR, a policy research organization based in San Francisco. “Today’s hearing is a significant step toward that end: this bill will remove barriers to widespread solar adoption across California and help meet our clean energy and resilience goals in partnership with local jurisdictions.”

“We applaud this important committee vote for rooftop solar. California’s climate crisis, with drought, unprecedented wildfires and heat waves, underscores the urgent need to accelerate the number of solar roofs and home energy storage systems in homes across the state” Said Laura Deehan, State Director at Environment California. “Sen. Wiener’s bill does just that; giving cities and counties the resources they need to cut red tape and put solar permits on track for express approval. We hope the legislature continues to take strong action in support of SB 617.”