Denver recognized for keeping lid on solar installation costs
The sun may be free, but there are a lot of other costs in getting solar energy — even beyond expenses of solar panels — and Denver is taking steps to trim those so-called “soft costs.”
In recognition of those efforts, the city was named Colorado’s first “Solar Friendly Community” on Tuesday.
The costs for installation, permitting and marketing have grown to more than a third of the price of a rooftop system, according a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study.
“The permitting and licensing is the low-hanging fruit,” said Kristen Ardani, a researcher at Golden-based NREL. “This is the biggest opportunity for immediate cost reductions and opening the market.”
The average municipal fee for a rooftop solar installation in Coloradois about $500, but in Denver it is $50. The processing of a permit among Colorado municipalities ranges from one to 20 days — in Denver, it takes 15 minutes.
“Denver is showing the way,” said Neal Lurie, executive director ofColorado Solar Industries Association.
A study by SunRun Inc., a national solar installer, estimated the local permitting and inspection process could add as much as $2,500 to the cost of a residential system.
The average system in Colorado costs between $12,000 and $24,000, according to the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.
The association and the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Snowmass-based energy-consulting group, created the Solar Energy Friendly Communities programwith a federal grant.
The program has developed a list of best practices such as posting requirements, capping costs and standardizing forms.
“These all add up,” said Eric Wittenberg, regional vice president for SolarCity, which has put about 1,500 systems on Colorado homes, businesses and military installations.
About 60 percent of Colorado systems could be completed in a day, but only 30 percent are because of permitting issues, Wittenberg said. Denver is a notable exception, he said.
“We are open for business when it comes to solar,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in receiving the award.
About a dozen other Colorado municipalities are looking at obtaining the solar-friendly designation, and organizations in Utah and Arizona are considering copying the program, Lurie said.
NREL’s Ardani said that with 18,000 local governments and 5,000 utilities nationwide, standardized permitting, licensing and inspections are needed.
“It isn’t just a cost; it is an impediment to market growth,” Ardani said.
The average cost per watt of capacity for a 5.1-kilowatt residential system in the United States is $6.11. In Germany, which has standardized permits, it is $4.12, Ardani said.
REC Solar has installed about 1,000 systems in Colorado, and the permit and licensing costs are just a fraction of the price of any one unit, said Jason Zink, regional operations director for the company.
“But if you are trying to do jobs in volume, those costs start to add up,” Zink said.
Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912, email@example.com or twitter.com/bymarkjaffe
Source: Denver Post