AB 2188, signed into law by the Governor on September 21, 2014 (Chapter 521, Statutes 2014), amends the Solar Rights Act implementing, among other requirements, the first codified streamlined permitting requirement for small rooftop solar energy systems at the local level in California. The bill builds upon existing requirements for local governments that:
- Discourage passage of unreasonable restrictions on solar energy systems (Government Code Section 65850.5);
- Require use of non-discretionary permitting process (Government Code Section 65850.5(a)-(b) and Health and Safety Code Section 17959.1(a)-(b));
- Require demonstration of compliance when seeking state-sponsored incentives but leaves discretion to state (Civil Code Section 714 (h)(1)).
AB 2188 applies to all city, county, or city and counties responsible for permitting solar energy systems. The bill mandates that all cities, counties, or cities and counties pass an ordinance on or before September 30, 2015 to create an expedited, streamlined permitting process. Each jurisdiction must substantially conform its expedited, streamlined permitting process with recommendations for expedited permitting, including the checklist and standard plans contained in the most current version of the California Solar Permitting Guide adopted by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. The bill allows for modifications to the checklist and standards found in the guidebook for unique climatic, geological, seismological, or topographical conditions.
The bill also requires the adoption of a checklist that includes all requirements with which a small solar energy system must comply to be eligible for expedited review. Systems that satisfy the checklist requirements will be deemed complete and must receive permit approval under the statute. Permit approvals cannot be conditioned upon the approval of an association (i.e. an HOA) and a jurisdiction must provide a written notice detailing all deficiencies in an application if deemed incomplete.
The bill limits the streamlined, expedited permitting process to eligible small residential rooftop solar energy systems – as defined – that meet adopted checklist requirements. The bill defines small residential rooftop solar energy system to mean:
- A solar energy system that is no larger than 10 kilowatts alternating current nameplate rating or 30 kilowatts thermal.
- A solar energy system that conforms to all applicable state fire, structural, electrical, and other building codes as adopted or amended by the city, county, or city and county and paragraph (3) of subdivision (c) of Section 714 of the Civil Code.
- A solar energy system that is installed on a single or duplex family dwelling.
- A solar panel or module array that does not exceed the maximum legal building height as defined by the authority having jurisdiction.
Systems that meet this definition and the adopted checklist requirements are eligible to participate in a local jurisdiction’s expedited, streamlined permitting process for solar energy systems.
The bill creates the following additional major changes with regards to the expedited permitting process:
- Requires that the checklist and other required documents be published on a publicly accessible website;
- Requires that a jurisdiction allow electronic submission of an application and documents by email, the internet, or fax;
- Requires that a jurisdiction allow electronic signatures on all required documents in lieu of wet signatures (Note: If this is not possible, a jurisdiction must state the reason why in its ordinance);
- Requires a single inspection done in a timely manner (assuming that the jurisdiction has a consolidated inspection process);
- Authorizes subsequent inspections where a system fails inspection;
- Requires that a building official make a finding based upon substantial evidence that a system has a specific, adverse impact upon public health and safety to require an applicant to apply for a use permit;
Finally, the bill makes the following majors changes to the Solar Rights Act with regards to what constitutes a reasonable restriction on a solar energy system and the time frame that an association (i.e. a HOA) has to approve an application:
- Solar Water Heater Systems: Changes the definition of “Significantly” in reference to determining whether a reasonable restriction significantly increases a cost or decreases efficiency for solar water heating systems. Significantly now means an amount exceeding 10% of the cost of the system, but in no case more than $1,000.00, or decreasing efficiency by an amount exceeding 10%;
- Photovoltaic Systems: Changes the definition of “Significantly” in reference to determining whether a reasonable restriction significantly increases a cost or decreases efficiency for photovoltaic system. Significantly now means an amount exceeding more than $1,000.00 over the original system cost, or decreasing efficiency by an amount exceeding 10%; and
- Shortens the time period during which an association, as defined, must deny an application in writing from 60 days to 45 days.
AB 2188 can be accessed on the California Legislative Information website.