DOE Funds Cities, Counties to Digitize, Streamline Solar Permits

Today, we reported that Vermont passed legislation to streamline the permitting process for small solar installations, which will significantly reduce the costs of solar systems. The cumbersome solar permitting processes used across the US adds about $2500 to the cost of a system.  

To resolve this issue on the national level, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced more than $27 million in funding for cities and counties to digitize and streamline their solar permitting processes.

The funding is part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which aims to reduce the cost of solar 75% over the next decade. 

A $12.5 million "Rooftop Challenge" will encourage cities and counties to compete to streamline and digitize permitting processes. And  $15 million will go toward innovations in information technology systems, local zoning, and building codes and regulations.

"These investments under the SunShot program can help to transform the solar industry by addressing significant challenges to solar deployment, including permitting and installation," says Secretary Chu. "Innovations in IT and local business processes, such as online permit applications, can deliver significant savings for solar energy systems and will help America compete globally in this growing market."

Both DOE funding opportunities focus on "soft costs" associated with solar, including the capital required to pay for siting, permitting, and installation, as well as the cost of connecting the systems to the grid. Soft costs (as opposed to hard costs, which have to do with solar hardware) can represent up to 40% of the total cost of a solar energy system.

Navigating the various, expensive administrative processes of various towns, cities, and counties across the nation and securing financing for their projects are major obstacles for homeowners and developers. 

These projects will standardize some of the processes, cut upfront fees and paperwork, and reduce overall costs associated with permitting and installation, making it easier and cheaper for homeowners, businesses and their local communities to deploy solar energy.

Rooftop Solar Challenge: $12.5 million

Local and regional government teams will compete for funds to eliminate administrative barriers to residential and small commercial photovoltaic (PV) solar installations and to improve the availability of financing for solar projects.

The Challenge incentivizes local governments to develop innovative solutions in four key areas:

  1. Standardized permitting processes
  2. Updated planning and zoning codes
  3. Improved interconnection and net metering standards
  4. Increased access to financing

Every jurisdiction in each winning team must adopt the same processes, which will help address the challenge of different communities having different sets of rules and regulations.

The winners will also remove siting restrictions from local codes and land use policies and will increase access to finance options for homeowners by promoting innovative financing mechanisms like solar leasing and group purchasing.

Balance of System Costs: $15 million over three years

Local governments will create tools that streamline and expedite the process of installing solar energy.

DOE will fund one or more recipients in these areas:

  • Codes, Standards and Processes: improve existing codes, standards, and permitting processes; train code officials on new codes; and develop best practices and model codes that can be used in communities nationwide.
  • Software Design Tools and Databases: develop IT systems and databases, including a utility-scale planning tool that identifies sites available for solar project development; IT tools to help installers and local governments prepare and process permit applications; and a database of local permitting processes nationwide.
  • Regulatory and Utility Solutions: technical support for utilities to better integrate solar; support states in developing or improving regulatory frameworks necessary to sustain a growing solar market.

Here’s the DOE Funding Opportunity

The DOE previously announced $112.5 million over five years to support advanced solar PV manufacturing processes, under the SunShot Initiative.

Read our feature article, Streamlining Solar Technology, which details what SunShot funding recipients are doing to bring down the cost of solar:

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