Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 617, the Solar Access Act. SB 617 implements automated solar permitting in local jurisdictions with over 10,000 residents. This will allow for remote inspections and approvals of residential solar and solar + storage systems, which will greatly decrease approval times, cut permitting costs for local governments and homeowners, and help California meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The bill would also allocate $20 million to help AHJs switch to automated solar permitting, according to SEIA.
SB 617 is co-sponsored by SPUR and Environment California. Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is a principal co-author of the bill, and Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) and Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) are co-authors.
The effects of climate change have never been clearer, and California must accelerate its transition to clean energy in order to meet its target to become carbon neutral by 2045. Widespread installation of residential solar systems has helped push California towards these goals. However, while the cost of solar technology has decreased in recent years, the high costs associated with installation — including local permitting and inspection requirements — have remained prohibitive for many. Delays due to long permit and inspection wait times are also hurting solar implementation across the state. Automated permitting solves both of these issues; the Solar Access Act will allow California to implement a timely and comprehensive solution.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a project within the U.S. Department of Energy, has created a free-to-use program to support local governments with residential solar and solar + storage system permitting. SolarAPP+ provides a web-based portal that streamlines and automates permit reviews, and can be easily implemented into existing local government permitting software. The Solar Access Act requires cities and counties with populations over 10,000 to provide an online, instant permitting process like SolarAPP+. It also authorizes the California Energy Commission to provide technical assistance and grant funding for implementation through repurposed New Solar Home Partnership Program funds.
NREL first introduced SolarAPP+ in late 2020 and has slowly expanded the program’s capabilities. Pleasant Hill is the first city in California to adopt SolarAPP+ and has already begun processing permits. San Jose also uses online solar permitting, and has seen a 600 percent increase in approvals since upgrading in 2016.
“To fight climate change, we need to dramatically and quickly expand solar energy and energy storage,” Senator Wiener said. “We have seen highly successful examples of automated solar permitting on the local level. It’s time we take the next step and implement a better process in municipalities across the state.”
“This bill builds on California’s great work to streamline solar permitting that has made the state a clean energy leader,” said Nick Josefowitz, chief of policy at SPUR, a policy research organization based in San Francisco. “This bill will make installing solar panels on your roof and battery storage in your garage a quick and straightforward process, more like buying a new washing machine than having to permit a power plant. This is especially important for all those Californians facing regular public safety power shutoffs, who are looking to continue to power their lights, internet and critical medical equipment without resorting to dirty diesel generators.”
“The climate crisis — and the accompanying unprecedented wildfires and heat waves — underscore the urgent need to swiftly accelerate the number of solar roofs and home energy storage systems in homes across the state,” said Laura Deehan, state director at Environment California. “Sen. Wiener’s bill does just that, giving cities and counties the resources they need to cut red tape and put solar permits on track for express approval, and allowing consumers to save time and money.”