Commercial and Residential Solar PV Permit Campaign:
Santa Cruz County

Executive Summary

A summer 2011 survey by the Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter revealed variations in permit fees charged for commercial and residential rooftop photovoltaic (PV) energy systems by municipalities in Santa Cruz County. The survey found that fees for commercial PV projects of 131 kW in size varied from $175 to over $3,000. High fees can discourage businesses and residences from making good, long-term, high-yield investments in solar power. Two municipalities (40%) are charging fees that are slightly higher than the maximum cost-recovery levels identified in this report for commercial PV projects. Commercial PV permit fees for all Santa Cruz County municipalities are relatively reasonable compared to all other California counties surveyed by the Sierra Club over the past several years! For 3kW residential PV permits none of the municipalities in Santa Cruz 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:

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.

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

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