Permit fees for solar panels vary across San Luis Obispo County

Sierra Club, which conducted the survey, wants local governments to charge only enough to cover costs

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMarch 8, 2011 

A survey of local governments in San Luis Obispo County by the Sierra Club shows a wide variation in permit fees charged to businesses to install solar power.

Volunteers with the club surveyed all seven municipalities as well as the county to determine how much the fees would be to install 131 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels on the roof of a business. They determined that the fee would range from $273 in Atascadero to $31,548 in Morro Bay.

The survey is part of a statewide effort by the Sierra Club to encourage local governments to charge only enough in fees to cover costs and thereby encourage more small-scale commercial solar installations, said Kurt Newick, coordinator of the club’s permit-fee campaign.

“This survey reveals many municipalities are complementing federal and state governments by incentivizing solar power with very reasonable permit solar fees, while other cities are doing just the opposite, charging many times more than what is needed to recover inspection costs,” he said.

The hypothetical 131 kilowatt installation used in the survey would typically fit on the roof of a 10,000-square-foot building, such as a small grocery store. The cost of such an installation would be about $700,000, and reasonable permit fees would be no more than $2,500, Newick said.

Morro Bay, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach all had fees well above that amount. The club asked those cities to lower their fees. Only Morro Bay responded, Newick said.

Morro Bay building inspector Brian Cowen said only three buildings in the city, all of them supermarkets, have enough roof area to accommodate a system of that scale. The Morro Bay City Council, including three new members, is reviewing its fees.

“The city does issue permits regularly for rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) systems on residences,” Cowen told the Sierra Club. “The permit and plan check fees are typically on the order of $200 to $500, depending on the scale/stated value of the system.”

Big differences

131-kilowatt solar permit fees per local government as of Feb. 24:

Morro Bay: $31,548

Pismo Beach: $15,907

Grover Beach: $9,509

SLO County: $2,585

Paso Robles: $1,406

San Luis Obispo: $910

Arroyo Grande: $350

Atascadero: $273

Source: Sierra Club

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