Solar advocates shared how SolarAPP+ makes it easier and cheaper for people to go solar in Santa Cruz County

Groups Call for CPUC to Reject Utility-Backed Proposal to Make Rooftop Solar Unaffordable for Renters, Farms, and Schools

New rules proposed yesterday by California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) would make it unaffordable for renters in multifamily housing, farms, and schools to benefit from rooftop solar and battery storage.  The proposed decision hurts renters in California by denying multifamily properties the ability to consume the energy that they produce on-site without selling it to the utility and buying it back at higher rates.

At issue are proposed changes to the Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM) and Net Energy Metering Aggregation (NEMA) programs. The programs let properties with multiple electric meters install a single solar system for the entire property, sharing one solar system’s electricity and net metering credits with all customers and meters on that property. This brings the benefits of going solar to many types of consumers who otherwise would not benefit from Net Energy Metering (NEM), the program that makes solar more affordable by crediting consumers with solar systems for the excess energy they produce and share back with the energy grid.

VNEM and NEMA are essential for making solar accessible and affordable for apartment complexes. Farms, which have separately metered irrigation wells, commercial developments, and school and college campuses also rely on the ability to share solar generation and net metering credits.

Last December, the CPUC issued a decision on the value of solar credits for single-family homes. That decision includes a distinction between energy consumed on-site and energy exported to the utility electric grid. It drastically reduces compensation to customers for exported energy, but allows customers to continue using their own generated electricity in real time. Under this updated program, known as NEM-3, customers consuming the energy they generate results in them buying less energy from the utility.

The proposed decision on virtual net energy metering does not include a distinction between energy consumed on-site and energy exported to the utility electric grid. It effectively prohibits customers from buying less energy from the utility even when they produce and consume energy on-site in real time. It would force customers in multi-meter properties—such as renters, small farmers, schools, and colleges—to sell all of their generation to the utility at low rates and buy it back at full retail rates.

The proposed decision is slated for a vote by the CPUC commissioners on September 21. If the CPUC finalizes the decision as proposed, it will likely end the ability of apartment buildings and many schools and farms to install solar and energy storage.

“Apartment complexes, farms, schools and commercial buildings represent a tremendous opportunity to grow California’s clean energy capacity while bringing the benefits of solar to many types of consumers who were previously left out,” said CALSSA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro. “Big utilities and our state’s energy regulators should not be treating people in apartments and other multimeter situations worse than consumers in single family homes. We know solar threatens utility profits, and they will stop at nothing to halt our progress – but this type of unfair discrimination is too much even for them.”

Hundreds of organizations and businesses representing clean energy and renters’ rights advocates, affordable housing, farms, and schools—as well more than 135 local elected officials—previously called on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to reject proposals from the utilities and CPUC Public Advocate to make it nearly impossible for their constituencies to benefit from rooftop solar and battery storage. The top recommendation in those letters was maintaining a distinction between self-generation consumed on-site and energy exported to the electric grid.

In addition to individual elected officials from around the state, local jurisdictions spoke out against the utility proposals.

A recently adopted resolution by the Oakland City Council calls on the CPUC and Governor Newsom “to reject any proposals that seek to frustrate or dismantle the ability of multifamily tenants and schools to avail themselves of the benefits of local, renewable, and affordable energy through rooftop solar and battery storage.” Instead, the City Council urged the CPUC to “approve a net energy metering tariff for multifamily housing and schools that includes full credits and savings for multifamily tenants and schools from customer generated energy.”

and across California

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, CA. — On Thursday, solar advocates celebrated Santa Cruz County’s progress in adopting SolarAPP+, an online permitting system developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the Department of Energy to make it easier and cheaper for people to go solar.

Santa Cruz County is in the final stages of testing and is on track to meet California’s September 30, 2023 deadline to fully transition to an automated instant permitting process for residential rooftop and storage systems mandated by the Solar Access Act (SB 379–Wiener).  Santa Cruz County also applied for grant funding through the CalAPP program administered by the California Energy Commission to help cover any costs for implementing the new permitting process.

Once fully adopted, SolarAPP+ can issue same day permits for rooftop solar projects that meet state codes, a significant improvement from California’s current permit timeline average of 13 to 19 days, which delays solar installations and passes on costs to consumers. The California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA) estimates that the broad adoption of SolarAPP+ would lower the cost of a typical solar system for consumers by $1,200 to $2,600 across the state, and for the typical solar + storage system, consumers could see costs lowered by $2,300 to $5,100.

Local solar advocates in attendance included:

  • Supervisor Manu Koenig, First District Supervisor for Santa Cruz County

  • Lisette Patrice Jones, Field Representative, Assemblymember Gail Pellerin

  • Ben Davis, Senior Policy Advisor, CALSSA

  • Daniel Camacho, CEO, Solar Motion

In September 2022, Governor Newsom signed the Solar Access Act into law that requires most cities and counties to automate their permitting for residential rooftop and storage systems by adopting SolarAPP+ or functionally equivalent software.

The first compliance deadline is September 30, 2023 for jurisdictions with more than 50,000 residents. Santa Cruz County is among about 240 California cities and counties required to begin issuing instantaneous permitting for residential rooftop solar and storage projects within the next couple of months. While some jurisdictions like Santa Cruz County have begun or completed the process of adopting a fully automated and instant solar and storage permitting system, many still need to initiate the process to meet the state’s deadline. Cities and counties can apply for grant funding through the CalAPP program administered by the California Energy Commission to help cover any costs for implementing the new permitting process; the deadline was extended to June 30, 2024 and is on a first-come, first-served basis for all remaining funds.

SolarAPP+ is the easiest, one-stop solution for building departments to comply with the law. It is free and available to all jurisdictions in California and across the country. The SolarAPP+ software asks the contractor a series of questions to verify the system’s design is up to code, runs automated code compliance and plan check, and then — for compliant systems — issues a permit automatically for installation to begin. More information about SolarAPP+ including a video of how it works in practice is available here.

Fast Facts:

  • On average, it takes 13 to 19 days for California building departments to issue a permit, and it is not uncommon for wait times to take 60 or more days. The result is months of delays, thousands of dollars added to solar projects that are passed along to customers, and fewer homes going solar that otherwise would.

  • It is twice as expensive to go solar in California than many other developed places because of costs associated with permitting and interconnection with utilities. SolarAPP+ has the potential to dramatically bring down the cost of solar in California by cutting red tape around permitting without sacrificing safety. SolarAPP+ permits pass inspection with rates at, or better, than traditional permitting systems.

  • CALSSA estimates that the broad adoption of SolarAPP+ would lower the cost of a typical solar system for homeowners by $1,200 to $2,600 across the state, and for the typical solar + storage system by $2,300 to $5,100.

  • California cannot meet its clean energy goals and bring rooftop solar and solar batteries to more people without streamlining the local building department’s permitting process—it’s one of the biggest obstacles to solar growth.

  • According to NREL, solar projects submitted through SolarAPP+ are installed and inspected on average 12 business days faster than projects using the conventional process.

  • Streamlined permitting through SolarAPP+ also helps overstretched city and county building departments save time so they can focus on more complex projects.