Senator Wiener’s Solar Access Act Passes Senate Governance and Finance Committee
SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s legislation, Senate Bill 617, the Solar Access Act, has passed the Senate Governance and Finance Committee by a vote of 4-0. SB 617 implements automated solar permitting in counties with a population of over 150,000. This will allow for on-the-spot approvals of residential solar and solar-plus-storage systems, which will greatly decrease wait times, cut permitting costs for local governments and homeowners, and help California meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. SB 617 is co-sponsored by SPUR and Environment California. Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is a principal co-author of the bill, and Senators Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) and Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) are co-authors.
The effects of climate change have never been clearer, and California must accelerate its transition to clean energy in order to meet its target to become carbon neutral by 2045. Widespread installation of residential solar systems has helped push California towards these goals. However, while the cost of solar technology has decreased in recent years, the high costs associated with installation — including local permitting — have remained prohibitive for many. Delays due to long permit processing times are also hurting solar implementation across the state. Automated permitting solves both of these issues; the Solar Access Act will allow California to implement a timely and comprehensive solution.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a project within the U.S. Department of Energy, has created a free-to-use program to support local governments with residential solar and solar-plus-storage system permitting. SolarAPP+ provides a web-based portal that streamlines and automates permit reviews, and can be easily implemented into existing local government permitting software. The Solar Access Act requires counties with populations over 150,000 to provide an online, instant permitting process like SolarAPP+. It also authorizes the California Energy Commission to provide technical assistance and grant funding for implementation through repurposed New Solar Home Partnership Program funds.
NREL first introduced SolarAPP+ in late 2020 and has slowly expanded the program’s capabilities. Pleasant Hill is the first city in California to adopt SolarAPP+ and has already begun processing permits. San Jose also uses online solar permitting, and has seen a 600 percent increase in approvals since upgrading in 2016.
“California needs to dramatically expand its solar energy and energy storage capacity,” Senator Wiener said. “Automated solar permitting helps us streamline the approval process and increases our renewable energy output. If we’re serious about meeting California’s climate goals, we need much more solar and need to deploy it much more quickly.”
“We need to triple the amount of energy from solar rooftops to get to California’s 100% clean energy goals,” said Laura Deehan, State Director at Environment California. “The Solar Access Act promises to help cities and counties go big on solar, cutting costs and reducing wait times, so that more Californians can tap into this clean, renewable energy.”
"Today's hearing is a significant step for the rooftop solar revolution in California,” said Nick Josefowitz, Chief of Policy at SPUR, a policy research organization based in San Francisco. “By providing resources to cities and counties to implement automated permitting for small rooftop systems, we can remove barriers to widespread solar adoption across the state and help meet our clean energy and resilience goals in partnership with local jurisdictions."