solar-city

How Streamlining Solar Permits Helps Communities Achieve Sustainability Goals and Create New Jobs

As the world grapples with the global challenge of climate change, leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) are discussing massive solutions to address this that require buy-in from national and international bodies. Affordable, easy-to-implement local tech solutions are part of that solution, creating jobs and optimizing existing systems.

We must continue to rapidly scale solar and battery storage to help meet the United States’ goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2035. New data from Pima County and Tucson, Arizona point to a new app that’s streamlining solar permitting as a blueprint for other localities to follow.

Today, Accela and Pima County and Tucson, Arizona, released new data on how SolarAPP+ is helping to improve Pima County and Tucson’s solar permitting process. Leveraging data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the release shows that SolarAPP+ saves more than a thousand of hours in permit processing time – expediting solar adoption, simplifying the process for agencies and residents, and advancing efforts on local climate goals.

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How It Started: SolarAPP+ at the Nexus of Local Climate Change Solutions

Outdated permitting processes and red tape are slowing down solar permitting and adoption. The current processing time for permit applications and inspections is between two and eight weeks – with total direct and indirect costs of permitting residential systems equivalent to $6,000 – $7,000 per system. This makes solar too expensive for many to pursue.

This past April, the National Renewable Energy Lab partnered with Accela to launch a free, instant solar permitting solution that makes solar energy more affordable and accessible. At launch, SolarAPP+ was made available to more than 1,500 communities. The solution reduces the solar permitting timeline, making it instantaneous in some jurisdictions, and also makes it easier to adopt solar energy and supports growing job opportunities in the field.

Residential solar and battery applications account for a growing percentage of a communities’ permitting pipelines. Many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) receive hundreds of solar permit applications each month. With governments implementing climate action plans to reduce emissions and fight climate change, SolarAPP+ helps communities manage the growing number of solar applications without having to restructure internal workflows.

SolarAPP+ standardizes the application process, ensuring residents’ applications are code compliant and free of errors. This reduces agency staff and approval times by eliminating manual back and forth. Departments can issue permits virtually to ensure the safety of staff and residents during COVID-19, while also saving governments time and money.

How It’s Going: New Data from Pima County, AZ and Tucson

Pima County and Tucson, Arizona wanted to streamline their solar permitting processes as a way to advance their local sustainability goals and create jobs. To do this, both communities turned to SolarAPP+. Pima County Director of Development Services Carla Blackwell said SolarAPP+ “save[s the county] valuable time, money, and human resources” as well as “improve[s] user experience for residents and agency staff alike.”

From SolarAPP+’s launch through October, Pima County saved a total of 555 hours, and the city of Tucson saved 1,394 hours. This was achieved by reducing the time needed in both the permit review process – with a mean revision time of 0.75 – and the revision process.

“The City of Tucson and Pima County takes climate change seriously, and believes that all communities must play a part in creating a better, healthier planet for future Arizonians,” said Blackwell. “SolarAPP+ represents a clear next step for communities like mine to make the immediate, affordable, and necessary changes within our pre-existing systems to fight climate change.”

“We often think of far reaching compromises and solutions as the answer to saving our planet. But really, we’ve seen in my community how using technology to streamline solar permitting can usher in that needed green future sooner.”

What’s Next for SolarAPP+?

Pima County and Tuscon are just two examples of how cities can turn to permitting solutions to save time, money, and manpower. Considering that SolarAPP+ is free for all existing Accela partners and that Accela works with 80 percent of the largest U.S. cities, the potential reach of this solution is tremendous.

After reaching the goal of 125 U.S. communities signing-up to learn more about SolarAPP+, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is continuing to encourage mayors to adopt SolarAPP+ to make going green easier for residents and agencies alike.

Solar permitting currently can cost up to $7,000 per residential installation. That’s unacceptable when a low-cost, accessible solution like SolarAPP+ exists. By addressing the high costs and “gridlock” far too common in solar and battery permitting, SolarAPP+ makes it possible to get more panels on roofs, create more jobs and reallocate agency resources to other essential services.

As the world gathers for COP26, the conversation is focused primarily on worldwide or national goals. But to reach these goals, we need to act locally – action that will create the momentum needed to achieve these targets – and SolarAPP+ presents an opportunity for immediate, local action.

 

About The Author

Amber D’Ottavio is the Vice President of Production Management. With more than 20 years’ experience in Non Profit Tech, Civic Tech, and GovTech, Amber is passionate about solving public problems with technology by looking for smarter, more sustainable solutions that reach better outcomes for communities.

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Jeffrey J. Cook is a renewable energy market and policy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He has been on staff at NREL since 2014, and focuses on state and local policy, permitting, resilience, technology cost reduction, and distributed energy resource aggregation. He received his PhD in political science from Colorado State University in 2017, where he was an instructor of environmental and public policy courses. He received his Master of Science in environmental science and policy from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay in 2012.

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