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Sierra Club: Placer cities charge too much for solar

City says permit fees don’t even cover costs
By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
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A survey released last month alleges several Placer County municipalities are charging too much for installation of solar power cells, according to a local Sierra Club chapter. The Sierra Club’s Placer Group surveyed the county’s main municipalities and says that the majority are charging beyond cost-recovery levels for permits, particularly for commercial systems. “We want each of the cities in Placer County and all over California to have a fair fee that doesn’t discourage solar power by charging way more than they need to,” said Kurt Newick, of the Sierra Club’s Placer Group. Newick said that municipalities should be able recover the costs of what it takes to do the necessary inspections and issue the permit for the installation of roof-top photovoltaic cells, but the cost of the permit should not exceed those costs. According to Chris Robles, community development manager for the city of Roseville, permit fees for commercial systems can vary based on the estimated cost of the project. For a 131-kW commercial solar power system, the city of Roseville charges $7,527 to conduct plan reviews, do the necessary inspections and issue a permit. According to the report released by the Sierra Club, the maximum cost recovery limit for any municipality in Placer County should be $2,565. Robles said commercial and residential solar installations are tracked together as a single permit type for expenditure purposes. The permit fee is designed to cover the costs for the city to conduct plan reviews and inspections on both commercial and residential photovoltaic systems annually, Robles said. Robles said that about four years ago, the cities of Rocklin, Roseville and Lincoln got together and looked to standardize the fees for solar power systems on residential single family homes. “That’s really where the lion’s share of the market is,” Robles said. “There was a conscious decision to under-collect for single family homes. We wanted to incentivize that industry in South Placer.” Robles said that if the city were to review and readjust fees for residential permits, which right now stand at $155, there might be a modest reduction in commercial fees, but residential fees would likely go up. “At the end of the year, our billing department needs to show that on average, they’ve covered their costs of service,” Robles said. “By and large, they come up a little bit short.” Robles said that last year, the city of Roseville issued 50 permits for photovoltaic systems, both commercial and residential, and collected a total of $7,700 in permit and plan check fees. The actual cost to the city to conduct those services was $25,717, Robles said. “Clearly, we are not collecting the amount of expenditure associated with (city costs),” Robles said. Newick said it is the Sierra Club’s ultimate goal to bring the fees down to a reasonable level so that the city can cover their costs, but at the same time it doesn’t discourage commercial installation of solar power. “In commercial business, money is king,” Newick said. “The bottom line is that businesses are very concerned about money, so if you are charging a fair fee, you’re speaking the language of business.” Toby Lewis can be reached at tobyl@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT. ---------- Photovoltaic permit fees for 131-kW commercial systems in Placer County as of Nov. 8: Auburn $9,268 Roseville $7,527 (add $1,932 for utility meter fee) Placer County $7,194 Colfax * $7,181 Loomis * $7,000 Lincoln $4,114 Rocklin $1,398 Average $6,240 Photovoltaic permit fees for 3 kW residential systems as of Nov. 8: Colfax * $515 Loomis $200 Placer County $163 Roseville $155 (add $252 for utility meter fee) Auburn $141 Lincoln $126 Rocklin $125 Average $203 * Fees under review (source: Sierra Club) ---------- To see the results of the Sierra Club survey, visit: www.SolarPermitFees.org/placer.html