Road to rooftop panels needs to get easier, solar advocates say

Rooftop solar installation in the county is spotty at best. One home or business with solar panels on the roof is typically surrounded by many others without.

A graphic example of this is available to anyone who hikes up into the Irish Hills at the west end of Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo. Below, a hiker can see the roof of Costco covered with 580 kilowatts of solar panels. Next door, on the roof of the Home Depot, there are none.

A call to Home Depot’s corporate headquarters to inquire about the company’s policy on rooftop solar was not returned. However, renewable energy advocates say that the many roadblocks to installing solar should be removed if the state is going to meet its renewable energy goals.

“We are really falling short on rooftop solar,” said Tom Murray, a green building contractor in San Luis Obispo County. “We should be moving ahead a lot more aggressively.”

Here are two things solar contractors say could be done to speed things up:

Standardize incentives. The federal government and states should adopt uniform standards for solar incentives. This would allow solar businesses to streamline their work forces because they would not need multiple specialists familiar with local rules.

“As it is now, the rules and regulations can be very different from one state to another and one utility area to another even though the underlying incentives are the same,” said Josh Price, director of installation for REC Solar in San Luis Obispo.

Streamline permitting. Similar to incentives, the time, effort and expense that it takes to get a permit to install rooftop solar varies widely from one state, county and municipality to another.

The city of San Luis Obispo has a goal of six minutes and $60 to get a permit. That kind of expedited permitting should be standard but is not, solar installers say.

“In my opinion, it should be an over-the-counter permit you pull with very brief review,” Murray said.