Solar array design software computer screen

Always question authority

When starting any massive construction project, such as adding a new room to a home or even adding a new wing to a hospital, there are always going to be hiccups along the way.  Solar is no exception. One major hiccup comes with permitting and every local ordanince putting their thumb on the scale and trying to get a piece of the action.

The point of this write-up is to bring awareness to the fact that just because a local ordanince who has the final say, called the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction), is asking for something or demanding something to be added to permitting, there are limitations they are bound by that even they may not be aware. There is also some good information in the act regarding HOA approvals and solar access easements. It’s worth a good read if you’re in the industry or a solar advocate. Now on to the story:

Recently we helped a church review its energy usage to determine whether or not a roof top solar system would be a good investment for them or not. After many months of board meetings and a few re designs of the system we were able to fine tune the solar design and proposal that was a cost effective solution to help mitigate their electric bill. We have had some experience with this jurisdiction before and it is rumored through the contractor grape vine that they can be difficult to work with from time to time. After our submittal for plan check I was shocked (but not entirely) that the AHJ was wanting to attach a city modification project to our project. Apparently they adopted a municipal code on new or alteration permits over 22,000 dollars in project value to assign the customer to provide city upgrades not to exceed 20 percent of the project value. In our case the city was expecting the church to purchase and install 4 city street lights on 2 areas of their property. They claimed that it was missed when the city allowed the facility to be built a few years ago and now they saw an opportunity to get them back in the picture. After a few un-returned phone calls the church and I got together and looked for any angle we could to get out of this municipal upgrades trigger. Through this search we were led to the California Solar Act of 1978 and several other state civil codes. Civil code Article 2. 714(b) was of most importance which states “This section does apply to provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on solar on solar energy systems and to remove obstacles thereto. Accordingly, reasonable restrictions on solar energy systems are those restrictions that do not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance, or that allow for an alternative system of comparable cost, efficiency and energy production.”  This was a great start to our case and upon reading a little further we discovered that Article 2 714. 1(B) “For photovoltaic systems that comply with the state and federal law, “significantly” means an amount not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) over the system cost as originally specified and proposed, or a decrease in the system efficiency of an amount exceeding 10 percent as originally specified and proposed.” There it was, we had our case!  One of the members of the board was able to set up a meeting with the city engineer that had worked on the plan sets when the upgrades code was triggered the next day. We met with the city and presented our case, he didn’t have too much to say about it and said that they had reviewed this code about 4 or 5 years ago and had moved forward with their current policy anyways. The board of the church prior to this meeting had also had their lawyers review the code and drafted a letter to the city with their interpretation and response. This was the crown jewel to our meeting. We handed them the 3 page document from the lawyers and asked them if they could please review the civil code again and get back to us with an answer. The engineer agreed that he and the Chief building Official would review this and get us an answer that afternoon. So we left our meeting and wondered how the day would pan out. Well, it appears we had a strong point to push back with because the AHJ called me back that afternoon and said, “It appears we have been doing things wrong internally.” The city lights installation were pulled out of the permit attachment.

Another win for the solar industry and its customers.

Civil Code:

Division 2 PROPERTY [ 654-1422] Part 1. Property in General [654-749] Title2. OWNERSHIP [669-742] Chapter 2. Modifications of Ownership[704-714.5]  714. (b), 714(1)(B)