East Bay Green Corridor to receive more than $140,000 for solar panel projects

Bay Area-based SolarTech awarded the East Bay Green Corridor, a partnership between East Bay cities, including Berkeley, more than $100,000 last month to encourage the the use of solar panels as part of a $2.5 million federal grant.

The Green Corridor, which also encompasses Alameda, Oakland and institutions like UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, received an approximately $140,000 grant on Sept. 20 from the department to be distributed over the course of three years to streamline the solar panel permitting process, which has been an obstacle for cities and residents looking to install solar panels.

The $140,000 grant for the Green Corridor — a member of SolarTech — is part of a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to SolarTech, a Silicon Valley collaborative with the aim to reduce barriers to solar panel usage.

The funds are intended to help streamline a process for solar panel inspection and permitting fees. These fees amount to an average of $2,500 — about 50 cents per watt — for typical residential photovoltaic installation in the country. Installation usually costs homeowners an additional 33 percent of what they would spend on panels, according to a SunRun study published last January.

Carla Din, director of the Green Corridor, said in an email that as equipment and technology costs decrease, permitting and inspections costs could rise by 50 percent because current jurisdiction adds more expensive rules.

An inefficient and solar permitting process with outdated costs not only plagues the East Bay but is a national issue, said Neal DeSnoo, energy program officer for the city of Berkeley.

Nationally, the solar permitting fees account for about 8 percent of an entire solar project. However, as technology and materials costs decrease, that percentage will surely rise, DeSnoo said.

Despite this national issue, DeSnoo said Berkeley is already quite “innovative” in that the city charges a flat solar permit fee, as opposed to other cities that base their fee on the size of the solar project.

He added that hopefully this grant will only streamline this solar permitting process even more and hopefully mitigate increasing fees.

Over the next three years, the corridor will use the grant money to assemble data from its eight cities, recommend policy guidelines, serve as a beta testing ground and pilot sites and offer solutions for addressing a variety of city processes, according to Din.

“By Year 2 we expect to have a fully implemented innovative streamlined permitting process across our 8 cities, which will not only positively impact solar PV installations, the industry, and work forces, but could potentially benefit other future regional permitting needs,” Din said in the email.