CalAPP to Speed up Solar Rooftop Permitting Process
July 7, 2022
California Launches CalAPP to Spur Rooftop Solar Growth by Cutting Costly Red Tape that Slows Solar Installations
California recently launched a first-in-the-nation initiative to spur growth in rooftop solar and reduce consumer costs by cutting red tape that impedes solar installations.
The California Energy Commission’s “CalAPP” program will provide incentives to cities and counties to adopt SolarAPP+, software designed by the federal Department of Energy using innovative technology that issues building permits for rooftop solar in real time. SolarAPP+ eliminates permitting delays, standardizes the permitting process between jurisdictions, and reduces the cost of solar, leading to solar on more roofs.
Properties that install solar first need to receive a permit from the local building department, but outdated and bureaucratic permitting requirements in many areas combined with chronic staffing shortages can add months of delays and thousands of dollars to solar projects. In many cases, property owners give up on solar entirely. Even in the several cities and counties with streamlined solar permitting, different processes, and requirements unique to that jurisdiction can add significant costs to contractors who pass those on to their customers.
Environmental advocates, the solar industry, and consumer groups are hopeful that the CalAPP program will remove these roadblocks and praised the new program.
“How does California expect homes to go solar if they can’t get a permit? How does California expect solar to be everywhere if every city and county has their own rules” questioned Ben Davis, policy associate with the California Solar & Storage Association. “Thank the solar gods for CalAPP, which should open the floodgates on rooftop solar.”
CalAPP is a quadruple win," said Jeanine Cotter, President, and CEO of Luminalt, a solar installation company in the Bay Area. "Everyday, we devote a ton of resources to obtaining permits for our clients to go solar. By encouraging cities to adopt the best practice of automating permitting, CalAPP will slash costs for building departments, installers, and customers, leading to solar on more roofs, which in turn will reduce global warming emissions."
The federal Department of Energy modeled SolarAPP+ after San Jose’s and Los Angeles’ home built solar permitting platforms. San Jose’s and Los Angeles’ software, similar to SolarAPP+, asks the contractor a series of questions to verify that the system is up to code and then issues the permit automatically, enabling construction to begin the same day. The number of homes going solar annually in San Jose increased sixfold after their software launch in 2015.
The CalAPP program provides grants and assistance to cities and counties to adopt SolarAPP+. While SolarAPP+ is free, the grants are designed as an incentive and to cover the staff time and other resources spent on adoption. The maximum grant sizes range between $40,000 and $100,000 depending on population. The grants are non-competitive and the application is simple.
Since its launch last year, dozens of California cities and counties have either adopted SolarAPP+ or are in the process of onboarding and piloting the platform. Now, with the CalAPP program funding available, the number of local jurisdictions acting to help consumers install solar efficiently is expected to grow rapidly.
SolarAPP+ is a crucial tool to spur the necessary adoption of solar. Rooftop solar – especially when paired with battery storage to supply clean energy after the sun sets – reduces fossil fuel pollution, lowers utility bills for homeowners and tenants, prepares the grid for electrification, and protects individual homes and entire neighborhoods from potential power shutoffs. To meet California’s clean energy goals, the state must, at a minimum, triple its rooftop solar over the next ten years.
The California Energy Commission’s efforts to spur solar adoption by automating permitting could be for naught if their sister agency, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), sides with utilities to instate a market-ending tax on solar homes. The CPUC currently is looking at changes to “net energy metering” (NEM), the state policy that makes rooftop solar and storage more affordable for consumers of all types by compensating them for the excess energy they produce and share with their neighbors. Despite that progress and importance of rooftop solar to California’s clean energy needs, the CPUC is considering changes backed by investor-owned utilities, like PG&E, to make solar unaffordable for most consumers by reducing NEM credits and imposing a new solar tax. The CPUC is expected to vote on the changes this fall.