Washington Team Awarded More than $520,000 to Spur Rapid Adoption of Solar Energy

Source:  US Department of Energy, Office of Public Affairs,  December 1, 2011.  Energy Department Awards $12 Million to 22 Teams Nationwide to Help Reduce Barriers, Serve As Models for Other Communities

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced the selection of a team led by the Washington State Department of Commerce to receive more than $520,000 to accelerate solar power deployment. Along with other projects across the country, this initiative will help cut red tape — streamlining and standardizing permitting, zoning, metering, and connection processes — and improve finance options to reduce barriers and lower costs for residential and small commercial rooftop solar systems. This project is part of the Energy Department’s larger effort to make solar energy more accessible and affordable, increase domestic solar deployment, and position the U.S. as a leader in the rapidly-growing global solar market.

This award is part of $12 million in funding for the awardees of the Rooftop Solar Challenge under U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.  The Challenge supports 22 regional teams to spur the pace of solar power installation on homes and businesses in their communities.

“Through this competition, the Energy Department is investing in this Washington project to unleash the community’s solar potential by making it faster, easier, and cheaper to finance and deploy solar power,” said Secretary Chu. “These awards will reduce the costs to homeowners and businesses of installing solar energy systems, while saving money and time for local governments faced with tight budgets.”

The Washington State Department of Commerce team will receive $523,800 to create an online permitting system, shorten permitting processing turnaround times, and fix fees through this effort. The team will also work to eliminate the use of external disconnect switches and will lift system size and program capacity limits.

The Washington State Department of Commerce team also includes the following partner organizations: Cities of Seattle, Bellevue, Edmonds, and Ellensburg; Northwest SEED; Solar WA; Thurston Energy; Sustainable Connections; and serving utilities.

Non-hardware, or “soft,” costs like permitting, installation, design and maintenance currently account for up to 40 percent of the total cost of installed rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems in the U.S.  Across the nation today, there are more than 18,000 local jurisdictions with their own PV permitting requirements, land use codes and zoning ordinances; more than 5,000 utilities that are implementing standards for connecting and selling energy back to the energy grid; and all 50 states are developing their own connection standards and processes for supplying and pricing energy sold back to the grid. According to a report released earlier this year by SunRun, local permitting and inspection processes alone add $0.50 per watt, or $2,500 per residential installation nation-wide.

Using a “race to the top” model, the Rooftop Solar Challenge incentivizes the regional awardees to address the differing and expensive permitting, zoning, metering, and connection processes required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems. The 22 diverse teams bring together city, county, and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities and other regional stakeholders to clear a path for rapid expansion of solar energy and serve as models for other communities across the country.

The teams will implement step-by-step actions to standardize permit processes, update planning and zoning codes, improve standards for connecting solar power to the electric grid and increase access to financing.

See the full list of awards HERE.

An interactive map of the awardees can be found HERE.

Visit the Rooftop Solar Challenge website.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. Reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75% will drive widespread large-scale adoption of solar—fortifying U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race while spurring new industries and job creation across the nation. For more information, visit the SunShot Initiative website.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Penny Thomas, Communications Director, Washington State Department of Commerce, Office: 360.725.2805  Mobile: 360.704.9489, http://www.commerce.wa.gov