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L.A. launches streamlined permitting system for solar panels online

Los Angeles announces online solar permits to reduce costs for homeowners

The city of Los Angeles has launched an online permitting system for solar panels, seeking to streamline the process and reduce costs for homeowners.

Previously, those installing the systems had to go to a Department of Building and Safety office, with plans in hand, to apply for a permit, then wait days for approval, said department spokesman Luke Zamperini.

But now, it's possible to receive permits for solar photovoltaic systems directly from the department's website, the mayor’s office said in a news release this week.

Zamperini said the time for approval has been slashed to minutes.

At the moment, the online permit system can process 75% of all solar photovoltaic permits for single-family homes and duplexes, according to the mayor’s office.  By the end of the year, the system is expected to handle 95% of permits.

Since launching the system as a pilot program in July, the department has issued more than 250 permits.

Building and Safety inspectors have also received additional training which allows them, instead of the Fire Department, to verify certain requirements --a  streamlining that the mayor’s office says will reduce time and costs for homeowners. 

"The work done by the Department of Building and Safety, together with ongoing customer service improvements for solar customers underway at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, will cut costs and help create local jobs in the city’s growing solar installation industry," Garcetti said in a news release.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, the executive director of California Solar Energy Industries Assn., praised the permitting changes at the Building and Safety Department, but added that it is “is only half the equation in Los Angeles.”

“The other half is at the Department of Water and Power, which approves both the rebate for the rooftop solar system as well as the interconnection inspection and approval,” she said in an email.

In February, the Los Angeles Times reported that it took the DWP at least 12 to 13 weeks to approve and inspect rooftop panels for homeowners -- roughly five times what it was then taking in San Diego and Sacramento.

The DWP acknowledged that it needed to do better and in March announced plans to double its staff for rebate processing, hire more workers for its hotline and look for other ways to improve its approval process.

The agency said the average time frame for most customers in early August was down to eight to nine weeks. 

But late last month, The Times reported that some frustrated customers were waiting far longer to get their solar panels up and running.

The delays and Los Angeles' onerous approval process hampered solar installations, homeowners and industry officials said.

The mayor's office, in the news release, said DWP workers are undergoing more training as the department moves solar approvals from "a boutique to a standard service." That, the mayor's office said, should reduce times for connecting solar panels to the electric grid.

Times staff writer Chad Garland contributed to this report.

Twitter: @khouriandrew

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