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Santa Monica Falls In Line With State's Solar Push

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

August 31 2015 -- Santa Monica provides local homeowners and businesses looking to go solar free technical advice and help picking a reputable contractor, but the beach city has never had a formal permit process within its codes for the often-complex rooftop systems until now.

Beating a state deadline by just weeks, the City Council last Tuesday approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote a second reading formally adopting a new ordinance that codifies a quick, streamlined permit process for homeowners wanting to install solar cells to save energy.

While the City already has local safety and building code standards in place for residential rooftop solar arrays, a new state law passed last year requires all California cities and counties to implement a state-standardized permitting process for the alternative energy systems by September 15, said City Building Officer Ron Takiguchi.

Last month, Santa Monica Building and Safety and Fire Department officials met to discuss the details, including creating a formal application process and a checklist that homeowners will have to meet to qualify for expedited permit approval, he said in a report.

As required by the new state law, the checklist must explain to homeowners what the local building and safety requirements are for rooftop solar panels. But the local regulations must not become “burdensome” on residents, according AB 2188, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last September.

Takiguchi said Santa Monica's finalized checklist for applicants will follow rules set out in the “California Solar Permitting Guidebook,” which addresses structural and electrical compliance “and standard items for fire prevention safety.”

According to the new state law, cities and counties must allow homeowners to apply for the permits online, and must also make the qualifying checklists publicly available on their websites.

Cities and counties also must provide a timely inspection of the new system prior to the permit's approval, according to the new state rules.

Authored by one-term former Assemblyman Albert Muratsuchi, the new law is aimed at unclogging bureaucratic red tape and other logjams at the local level that have slowed California's progress toward reaching its “Million Solar Roofs” goal, according to its language

To reach the goal, “hundreds of thousands of additional rooftop solar energy systems will need to be deployed in the coming years,” the law states.

Passed in 2005 under the administration of former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Million Solar Roofs Initiative has the goal of placing 1 million solar energy systems on the roofs of new and existing homes and on half of all new homes in the state by 2017.

Along with creating a state standard for local permits for rooftop solar systems, Muratsuchi's bill  amended a section of the 1978 California Solar Rights Act by increasing the efficiency standards for rooftop systems sold in the state.

The Solar Rights Act essentially gave the state the power to legislate “consistent statewide standards” to spread solar energy technology across California in a “timely and cost-effective” fashion. 

But a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed “the permitting process governing the installation of rooftop solar energy systems varies widely across jurisdictions,” said AB 2188

Contrary to the spirit of the 1978 act, local control over the permitting of rooftop solar systems has resulted in the creation of both an “obstacle to the state’s clean energy and greenhouse reduction goals” and a “burdensome cost to homeowners, businesses, schools, and public agencies,” said AB 2188.

The new law aims to address those issues by creating one single statewide standard for all new local permits for residential rooftop solar systems.

Although the law shifts the burden of inspecting solar systems onto cities and counties, it won't cost Santa Monica any money to make the changes, Takiguchi said in his report to the Council.

According to AB2188, counties and cities, as well as the state, have received millions of dollars in  grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, through the department's SunShot Initiative, to offset any costs related to implementing streamlined and standardized permitting processes for rooftop arrays.

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