Denver Honored as 'Solar Friendly Community'

Cities and communities looking for a model for solar-friendly permitting and inspection policies might want to check out what Denver is doing.

The city and county are being honored as the state’s first "Solar Friendly Community." They earned 1275 points out of a possible 1600 for making adoption of solar easy.

"Denver provides a great model on how a large city can make it easy for solar installers to do business,” says Rebecca Cantwell, senior program director for Solar Friendly Communities. "The streamlined permitting, inspection and educational practices translate into lower costs for consumers and a more welcoming climate for solar energy."

They clearly post permitting requirements online, offer low-cost, same-day permits and streamlined inspections, and provide a variety of educational materials about solar energy to residents.

Solar Friendly Communities is one of 22 teams across the US  awarded a Rooftop Solar Challenge grant under the  Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative – designed to break down administrative barriers that delay residential and small commercial PV solar installations.

In Colorado, it’s led by Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (CSEIA) and includes Rocky Mountain Institute, American Solar Energy Society, the City and County of Denver, Boulder County and the cities of Fort Collins and Golden.

One of the biggest drags on lowering the price of solar systems is the wide variety of permitting and inspection processes that installers must meet across the US.

In Colorado, for example, the procedures vary dramatically across its 200 cities and towns, 64 counties and 65 utilities. The Solar Friendly Communities program tries to assist local governments by offering a menu of options that can help communities shave off extra time and cost while respecting their unique needs.

"We are hoping that other communities in Colorado and elsewhere will realize that by following some relatively simple best practices, they can make life easier for city officials and customers as well as for solar installers,” says Neal Lurie, executive director of Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. "The more transparent and standardized we can make the process, the better able we’ll be to accommodate the projected rapid increase in demand for solar energy.” 

Prices for installed solar systems are dropping rapidly on both the technology and "soft" costs sides. Solar panels cost about 70% less than three years ago and "soft" costs are down some 30% during that time. 

But permitting and inspection costs still add $0.50 per watt, or about $2500 to the total cost for the homeowner.

That’s why SunShot just announced a $10 million competition to find approaches that reduce the expense.

Here’s more on the Solar Friendly Communities initiative:

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