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Friday, May 13, 2011

A testament to the power of bureaucracy

While many Californians seek to promote green power, there’s an even strong and more renewable form of power: government bureaucracy.

On behalf of SolarTech, the PV trade association, our SJSU business honors students have completed one study on overcoming permitting obstacles for residential solar in the state, and are about to finish another.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee shifts the problem from an insider’s concern to a broader political audience in an article entitled “Permit Process Clouds Solar Energy Project.” It notes that politicians have talked about streamlining permitting for utility-scale solar, but not residential solar. This oversight calls into question the goal of a “Million Solar Roofs” by 2018.

A few paragraphs capture the heart of the problem:
Solar providers often complain about having to wait hours in line to submit permits and weeks to get final approval.

The result: Installing rooftop solar panels often takes two to three months from start to finish. In contrast, installing a central air conditioning system, which requires about the same amount of work, can take two weeks, Hahner said.
PV may have some safety issues. The industry clearly needs a technical solution — say UL certification of computer-controlled panel/inverters — that would make connecting a solar panel as foolproof as plugging in a refrigerator or room-sized air conditioner.

Even more crazy is when these regulations apply to solar hot water, which as my colleague Jim Mokri pointed out, is not high technology but 19th century plumbing.

The Bee offers this vignette:
Ed Murray, president of Rancho Cordova-based Aztec Solar Inc., said he ran into a number of hassles trying to get a permit from San Joaquin County for a simple $5,000 solar water heater.

Usually these kinds of permit applications are handled over the counter, but this one turned into a drawn-out process. Murray said he and his employees had to drive to the unincorporated Stockton area three times as part of the review.

"The customer was about to pull out of the project because he was so frustrated that it was taking so long," said Murray, who noted that the permit was approved Thursday.
This is one of the main reasons that I see California’s RE policy as mereley Grand Kabuki by publicity-seeking politicians, rather than a serious attempt to reduce carbon emissions or the use of fossil fuels.

Politicians can’t change the cost of silicon, the efficiency of CIGS, the cost of capital or the scale efficiencies of the big five Chinese manufacturers. They can, however, change regulations — if they really want to. But obviously they don’t want to.

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