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L.A. County to reduce fees for solar panels

July 7, 2009 |  1:05 pm

Los Angeles County and local municipalities are charging significantly higher fees and taking longer to issue solar panel permits than neighboring areas, according to a recent survey by two Southern California Sierra Club chapters.

Solar panel permitting fees in L.A. County average $1,143, more than twice the average permit fee of 250 municipalities reviewed, the study found.

In response to the findings and a Department of Public Works review of county inspection costs, county
supervisors unanimously approved a proposal by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky today that the county lower solar panel permitting fees to $370. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was absent.

The study conducted by the Angeles and Loma Prieta Sierra Club chapters between February and April found an average permit cost of $493 among 250 municipalities for permitting the installation of residential solar panels.

Jim Stewart, co-chair of the Sierra Club Angeles chapter’s global warming committee, said the survey
found overcharging and delays in many communities.

“It discourages people from putting solar on. Every extra dollar is more of a hindrance to getting the solar installed,” he said.

Currently, Los Angeles County charges more than 90% of Southern California municipalities surveyed. Cities in Los Angeles County also charged more for permits than those in neighboring counties, an average $712, according to the survey released June 21. Among local cities surveyed, La Habra Heights charged the most, $1,572.

By contrast, Orange County cities charged an average $426; Riverside $404; San Bernardino $401 and Ventura County $336.

Sierra Club officials recommend local governments charge no more than $324. Statewide, 104
municipalities charge $324 or less and 21 waive permit fees. Northern California cities charge an average $214, according to a Sierra Club survey of 131 cities last year.

State law requires that solar permit fees, "Shall not exceed the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service for which the fee is charged."

But many cities and counties base permit fees on the value of solar panels, usually between $15,000 and $30,000, and require consumers to pay for added reviews by local fire, planning, public works departments and utilities, according to the survey.

The average wait time for solar equipment permits in Southern California was one to two weeks,
according to the survey. Los Angeles County can take 10 days or more, surveyors said.

“It’s ludicrous to have those sort of stumbling blocks,” said Kurt Newick, who leads the Loma Prieta chapter’s global warming and energy committee and worked on the survey. “We want the cities to come up with a reasonable policy to support solar energy.”

Newick and other surveyors recommend that local governments lower or eliminate fees, reduce required
reviews and approve applications over-the-counter to encourage energy conservation.

They highlighted several local governments that issue permits over the counter and waive fees, including Burbank, the City of San Bernardino, San Clemente, San Diego and Ventura Counties.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske