County waives fees for solar nonprofit


Regularly criticized for levying too many fees that are too high, the Board of Supervisors showed this week that it will make an exception when it thinks there is reason to do so.

The board waived installation fees for Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit that installs photovoltaic systems on affordable housing. The waiver is for $100,000 spread over five years.

Senior Planner Matt Janssen said the company provides a public service in several ways. Photovoltaic systems reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, for example, and decrease energy bills. Each landowner saves $35 a month in energy costs, on average.

In addition, the nonprofit trains volunteers.

Janssen said Grid Alternatives installed 13 PV systems in the county’s unincorporated areas in the first six months of this year. The permit fees were $535 each, and that fee rose to $600 per installation July 1.

“If they did not have to pay those permitting fees,” Janssen wrote in a staff report, “Grid could have installed another seven (photovoltaic) systems on affordable houses.”

Grid Alternatives also installed 22 photovoltaic systems on affordable housing inside the city limits of Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, where the fees are “significantly less,” Janssen wrote.

“We’re not asking for a blank check,” Grid Alternatives’ Sandra Knapp said, just a break on the payments that will, in turn, allow the nonprofit to install more photovoltaic systems.

Janssen estimated that the $100,000 saved over five years could help pay for installation of another 100 systems over those same years.

The county can waive fees when it meets a need, provides a public benefit and provides something that is not otherwise available.

The board agreed that Grid Alternatives does all of that.