Clearing the Way for Solar

April 5, 2007 at 12:36 pm
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I’m posting two articles to the blog that were published behind the subscription wall of Green Chip Stocks this week. Thanks to them for allowing me to republish them here.

This one is about a new bill that would really grease the skids of the solar industry.


Clearing the Way for Solar

By Chris Nelder


New legislation was submitted to Congress this week that could sweep away many of the obstacles to widespread solar adoption.

The "Solar Opportunity and Local Access Rights Act" (SOLAR Act) is sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and Michael Ferguson (R-NJ). (Good thing it wasn’t submitted to the House Financial Services Committee, where chairman Rep. Barney Frank has given the order that he doesn’t want to see any more bills with cutesy names contorted to make an acronym.)

The SOLAR Act would accomplish in one fell swoop what has taken many years, and many separate bits of legislation and consumer lobbying efforts, to achieve here in California.

As a solar designer, I have personally encountered all of the obstacles the bill addresses, even here. I could tell you horror stories for days. For example, here in my little town, I can pull a building permit for a solar system over the counter in about 15 minutes with zero permit fees and no complicated electrical code questions, partly because my customers and I lobbied the local town council and asked them to encourage green development in town. But just five miles up the highway, in a neighboring town, a permit for the very same solar system would cost about three grand, require four to six weeks to get, require five copies of a complex permit set on 11×17 or 24×36 paper only, and require a big, ugly, 18” tall extra DC disconnect standing vertically on the roof…all because it’s a different building department with a different fire department.

Worse, there are over a dozen such jurisdictions in the northern Bay Area that I have to contend with, a veritable rat’s nest of differing regulations and requirements, where each one might require solar systems to meet different editions of the National Electrical Code, or even the whimsy of the local building inspector or fire chief.

And that doesn’t even include a whole other rat’s nest of CC&Rs (“covenants, conditions and restrictions” that dictate standards for specific housing developments and neighborhoods), many of which don’t want to see any “ugly” solar panels on their roofs.

The SOLAR Act would:

Require HUD to issue regulations that would prevent CC&Rs from prohibiting solar systems on a roof (similar legislation already allows anyone to install a satellite dish) and expedite approval of solar system applications.

Limit permit and licensing fees to $500 for residential systems, and $10,000 for commercial.

Require FERC to set national standards for interconnecting solar systems to the grid, putting an end to the confusion over electrical standards and connection methods.

Require all utilities to provide “net metering,” an arrangement whereby any excess electricity produced by a customer’s solar system is pushed back onto the grid and credited to the customer at retail electricity rates.

Clarify that renewable energy credits (RECs) generated by the solar system are the property of the solar system owner, not the utilities, which have tried a variety of tricks to grab them.

Allow federal agencies to enter into power purchase agreements with renewable energy providers for up to 30 years.

The SOLAR Act, if passed, will be a huge boon to the solar industry, clearing the way for widespread adoption of solar across the entire country. It will also be a huge relief to those of us in the business, who just want to install solar systems, not become experts at navigating an obstacle course of regulations.

So, more power to the Congressmen from California and New Jersey. I ardently hope they can get their legislation passed.

Until next time,

Chris signature


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