In a solar idea swap dedicated to utility-scale permitting, Solar Power International attendees shared numerous stories of frustration and failure. Stories of lagging efficiency at the local level were common as stories of confounding complexity at the state level.
Session moderator Megen Day, a senior project planner at juwi solar, echoed the sentiment of the attendees when she said developers are facing a “huge bureaucracy” and “inept local authority.” Attendees talked about the lack of process in municipalities and massive red tape statewide.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Day said urban opposition to small- and medium-sized utility projects is rare because public opinion of solar is quite high. The challenge in building projects, then, is in developing a streamlined process for permitting.
“They can build a building, but solar is not on the books,” one attendee said of municipalities. “They’ll work with you – they’ll get it done, but it takes a long time. You can’t put a number to it.”
One attendee, a recipient of a SunShot Initiative grant, has a group working to compile permitting data, as well as “softer” issues such as public perception, for online availability to all. (Read more about SunShot’s stance on permitting here.)
Some of the frustrations included:
- A lack of process.
- Fees are completely ambiguous because municipalities are not certain – some do not have fee schedules. And when they do, it’s often a high number. “Ambiguity leads to high risk for contractors bidding on projects,” an attendee said. The cost of interconnection is a risky unknown (and it’s often a high cost).
- In one state, New Jersey, solar installations in part are limited to brownfields and mitigated lands, but such sites are fraught with risk.
Attendees then compiled a list of suggestions for advocacy, some of which are below:
- Utilities should provide distribution models.
- Model ordinances should be provided based on successful projects.
- Permitting information and data that doesn’t give away businesses’ competitive edge but helps developers overall should be available online.