Belmont streamlines solar permits 

While the sun’s rays travel at the speed of light, the permitting process can be much slower, hindering the installation of solar panels on local homes and businesses.

In an effort to encourage the use of solar power, Belmont has become the latest city to lower its permit fees for the installation of photovoltaic panels and attempt to streamline the process.

While it once had some of the highest permit fees on the Peninsula, Belmont has now dropped them to an average of $370 for a typical permit, making it about average compared with other cities. The city once averaged around $1,100 for a permit, according to a September 2005 survey by the Sierra Club.

In addition, the city is now providing the necessary information to applicants at the permit center, rather than requiring an extensive back-and-forth application process.

"The streamlining has allowed us to decrease out our own costs, which we pass on through lower permit fees," said Belmont building official Mark Nolfi. "This way, we let them know up front what they’re responsible for, and as long as they satisfy those requirements we’ll issue them the permit on the spot."

According to a Sierra Club survey issued in September, the average cost for solar panel permits in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties has fallen since September of 2005, from $652 to just above $300. Some cities, like San Carlos, have eliminated the fee altogether.

Jeff Owens, owner of Burlingame-based Owens Electric and Solar, said the change will most directly benefit the contractors who install the arrays, because they have to deal with a range of prices and processes in different cities.

Nolfi said the city’s primary concern in issuing a permit is structural integrity. The equipment’s weight is comparable to that of shingle roofing at 2.5 pounds per square foot, and as installations get larger, the stress on the roof increases.

Proper permits are also required for a homeowner or business to receive rebates or credit from PG&E for generating their own power.

Nolfi said the changes came as a result of pressure from the local Sierra Club. Loma Prieta Chapter Director Melissa Hibbard said that although cities may not benefit financially from the installation of solar power arrays, the community as a whole sees positive results.

"When a city or a regulator does the work towards reducing their carbon footprint, they’re helping create a healthy city," Hibbard said.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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