Commercial and Residential Solar PV Permit Campaign:
Sacramento County

Executive Summary

A summer 2011 survey by the Sierra Club revealed wide variations in permit fees charged for commercial and residential rooftop photovoltaic (PV) energy systems by municipalities in Sacramento County. The survey found that fees for commercial PV projects of 131 kW in size varied from $3,264 to over $19,000. High fees can discourage businesses and residences from making good, long-term, high-yield investments in solar power. All municipalities are charging fees that exceed the maximum cost-recovery levels identified in this report for commercial PV projects. Four cities are charging more than $10,000 for a commercial PV permit (4 times higher than an estimated maximum fee that enables full cost recovery). For 3kW residential PV permits two of the municipalities in Sacramento County are charging fees that are excessive.

Figure of 131 kW commercial survey results



Figure of 3 kW residential survey results



The time needed for city staff to review and inspect a commercial PV project does not vary linearly by system size. For instance, interviews conducted in the preparation of this report revealed that the difference in time needed to process a 100 kW PV project is about two to three times longer than a 10 kW project (not ten times longer). Basing fees on the value of the solar equipment inflates permit costs to unreasonably high levels, especially for larger, more expensive solar power projects. To recover costs, therefore, permit fees should be based on specific review times and billable hourly rates and not on PV project valuations.

The authors of this study have developed a free, public fee calculator spreadsheet to help municipalities determine cost recovery.

You can see the detailed (dynamically updated) survey responses and current PV permit fees at: www.SolarPermitFees.org/PVFeesSantaCruzCounty.html

This report recommends best practices that municipalities can adopt to assure greater consistency, and help businesses develop an energy source that leads to a healthier, safer, and more stable community. These include setting permit fees at cost-recovery levels, and instituting streamlined permit processing procedures.

PV permitting recommendations

Executive summary of Solar Electric Permit Fees for Commercial and Residential Installations in Sacramento County

View the full Report of Solar Electric Permit Fees for Commercial and Residential Installations in Sacramento County