Our newsletter this month is just one story, and that is the tale of two very different bills currently working their way through the California legislature. One of these bills, SB 617, authored by Solar Champion Senator Scott Wiener, would tackle one of the most contentious and confounding issues in solar: the nightmare of permitting, literally creating instant permits thanks to their being “an App for that!”
The other bill, AB 1139 from Solar Grinch Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, would codify in statute some of the utilities darkest dreams to gut Net Energy Metering and all but eliminate the rooftop solar industry in the state, and all but eliminate the economic value of existing solar systems.
Here’s our take…
Senator Weiner’s bill seeks to solve one of the thorniest problems in the solar industry: permitting. The current state of play is a maddening hodge-podge of conflicting, and often non-sensical requirements from city to city. And while prior legislation required cities to create a streamlined process for small solar systems (typically 10 kW or less), many cities still require you to go over the counter (I’m talking about you, Pasadena) or even worse, submit the plans and then experience an interminable delay.
These idiosyncrasies needlessly drive up the cost of solar installations. For example, Glendale requires a “tree audit” for every solar project, even though we aren’t touching any trees! Even worse, Pasadena requires every solar project, even for the smallest systems, to have stamped engineering calculations and drawings!
And heaven help you if you plan to add storage to your solar power system! In Los Angeles County, adding storage requires the submission of a “Complex Electrical Permit application” with a, get this, a “4-6 weeks” turnaround time! Seriously? You are looking at standardized components, all listed for the purpose, and you need six weeks to approve it?
It doesn’t have to be this way. The City of Los Angeles has managed to allow for online permitting for small solar systems that results in a permit almost instantaneously! If LA can do it, surely the rest of the state could do the same.
SB 617 seeks to bring to the rest of California what LA has done, and thanks to a program from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there is now an app for that! Known as SolarAPP+, this standardized software – developed in partnership with building safety experts and the solar industry – provides an online portal that automates plan review, produces code-compliant approvals, and can instantaneously issue permits for solar and solar plus storage projects.
SB 617 would require cities and counties to adopt a program like SolarAPP+, with grant funding coming from the California Energy Commission to help cover the cost. This is a major win-win: cities and counties can reduce their administrative costs, eliminate aggravating backlogs, and allow more solar to be installed more quickly.
Let's get this done!
Assemblymember Gonzalez’s bill, quite simply, seeks to end the rooftop solar industry in California by gutting the economic value of Net Energy Metering. If enacted into law, this bill would:
- Eliminate the grandfathering of existing NEM 1.0 and NEM 2.0 customers after 10 years, forcing them into the bill's NEM 3.0 regime.
- Delete the language presently in the law that requires any successor NEM rules to ensure that the rooftop solar market “continues to grow sustainably”.
- Require mandatory monthly fees for every solar customer to be paid to the utility as a penalty for having the audacity to invest in your own clean power production.
- Reduce the value of energy exported to the grid to the wholesale hourly rate (compared to the near retail rate under NEM 2.0).
Lest you think that such a draconian re-writing of the rules could never get passed in the “liberal” California legislature, think again. At a recent hearing before the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, the bill passed out of committee on a 12-0 vote! This despite the fact that opponents of the bill out numbered proponents (who were all individuals affiliated with the utilities) ten to one! Tellingly, the bill’s author referred to the opponents of the bill as “special interests" - I guess she thinks the utilities are "just folks"?
It is unfortunate that as the head of a solar installation company, I also have to play the part-time role of Community Organizer, but such is the world in which we live. We had previously written about the NEM battle before the CPUC, and that fight is still a very big issue. (If you haven’t already, you can still sign the CALSSA petition here.)
But it is imperative that everyone reading this newsletter get involved. If you have a solar system or are considering investing in one, defeating AB 1139 is vital to maintaining the value of your investment. If you work in the industry, AB 1139 could eliminate your job, while at the other extreme, SB 617 could make you job so much easier.
So get off the sidelines and get into the game. Together we are stronger than the utilities and we can beat back the terrible and push forward with the good! You can find the phone number and email address of your Assemblymember by clicking here, and you can find the same for your State Senator here.