Sierra Club study
examines residential solar permit fees
By Ari Burack
August 22, 2007
Amid a growing push for clean and renewable energy sources,
some city governments in Northern California are helping to encourage
solar power to residents by lowering permit fees, a Sierra Club
In a study published Aug. 12 by the Sierra Club's Loma Prieta
Chapter, a survey of 131 Northern California cities in the nine-county
Bay Area, as well as Sacramento, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Yolo
counties, revealed an average permit fee of $282 to install a
3-kilowatt rooftop solar electric system in a single-family home.
The study updated a 2005 Sierra Club survey of San Mateo, Santa
Clara and San Benito counties, since which cities' solar permits
in those counties dropped on average from $652 to $252.
Study co-authors Kurt Newick and Carl Mills said their goal was
to convince other city governments to reduce solar permit fees
and lengthy permit approval times in order to encourage more residents
to invest in solar technology in their homes.
The study recommended most cities charge no more than $300 in
permit fees to ensure contractors properly install residential
solar energy systems.
"I'm very pleased at the city leaders who are making these
changes to help promote solar power," Newick said.
"Many of the more expensive ones have said that they will
reduce their fees," Mills added.
At $85 and $206 respectively, San Francisco and Marin counties
as a whole ranked the lowest in terms of solar permit fees, while
Napa and Yolo counties, at $444 and $445 respectively, were the
most expensive on average, according to Newick.
The study singled out the cities of Belmont, Foster City and
San Carlos in San Mateo County; Berkeley and El Cerrito in Contra
Costa County; Fairfax and Ross in Marin County; and Los Altos
Hills in Santa Clara County for offering free solar permits to
Also commended were the cities of San Jose, Novato, Saratoga
and Walnut Creek, for issuing "over-the-counter" permits
immediately, according to the study.
The average solar energy rooftop system costs about $18,600 after
a state rebate, can provide almost all of the power a typical
middle-income household consumes, and can last about 35 to 40
years, according to Newick.
With typical household energy usage, that cost can often be recovered
in 10 to 12 years, Newick said.
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