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Solar advocates are pressing the California State Legislature for the passage of a bill that will revamp residential solar photovoltaic permitting processes with an eye toward standardizing and streamlining them. Supporters of Assembly Bill 2188 (A.B.2188) say the legislation will shorten approval times and lower some costs associated with solar development.

Essentially, the legislation requires municipalities - in consultation with local fire departments - to create by ordnance an expedited, streamlined permitting process for small residential rooftop solar energy systems. Moreover, the bill requires that such processes be made available online. If passed, the legislation would create a transparent approval checklist by jurisdiction that reduces inspections and approvals to a minimum.

In May, AB.2188 passed the assembly on a bipartisan vote of 58-8. It must now pass the senate and be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown to become law. The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), which strongly backs A.B.2188, rallied supporters at the state capitol building in Sacramento Tuesday to emphasize the measure's importance for growing the solar installation market and creating jobs.

"With all the changes coming down the pike for rooftop solar, it is critical that we lower costs to continue to grow our market in the years ahead," says Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of CALSEIA. "Reducing soft costs associated with permitting is our top priority this year. AB.2188 would do something historic: mandate that every city and county in the state of California - all 500 of them - adopt a standardized streamlined permitting and inspection process for both solar PV and thermal residential rooftop systems."

While expressing confidence that the popular bill will ultimately reach the governor’s desk, Del Chiaro notes that the end of legislative session looms at the end of the month and anything goes at such times.

Last week, supporters of a popular solar bill in Massachusetts were surprised and disappointed by its failure to clear the legislature before the end of the session. A stop-gap measure raising the commonwealth's net-metering cap was enacted in its stead.

Standardizing permitting processes across the myriad jurisdictions in the U.S. is widely seen as an important goal of reducing the soft costs associated with solar power. A recent report on residential solar permitting practices across Los Angeles County by the Sierra Club and The Vote Solar Initiative found that solar permitting practices vary widely, with significant room for improvement in a majority of communities.

The organizations say A.B.2188 would help reduce barriers to solar adoption by standardizing the "patchwork quilt" of local permitting procedures.

"While the cost of solar panels has dropped far and fast over the past few years, non-hardware costs, like permitting, haven't budged much at all," says Evan Gillespie, a program director at the Sierra Club, in a statement. "We encourage all cities to adopt best practices and reduce costs and headaches for solar installers, customers and public agencies alike."

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