Solar rip-off? Many L.A. area cities overcharge for permits, Sierra Club says

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More than half of the municipalities in Los Angeles County are overcharging for commercial solar installation permit fees, according to a new report from the Sierra Club.

Of 89 jurisdictions, 62% are charging more than necessary to make up for the cost of inspections and reviews for businesses, nonprofit organizations and government clients, the Angeles and Loma Prieta chapters of the environmental group said.

Nearly half -- 42 of 89 municipalities –- are doing the same for residential permits, the study found. Such high fees can discourage potential users from trying renewable energy, the Sierra Club said.

So far this year, 15 cities have lowered their commercial fees more than $100, while 38 have dropped permit prices for residential projects since 2009, according to the Sierra Club.


The residential permit process for a 3 kilowatt solar installation runs an average of $512, the group said. Los Angeles’s rate is $248 -- down from $308 in 2009.

But Lawndale charges $1,471 -- up from $1,214 two years ago, according to the Sierra Club. Irwindale asks for $1,156, while San Marino, Bell and Paramount each require more than $1,080 in fees.

The average fees for commercial permits fall at $10,542, the Sierra Club said. Los Angeles comes in at $8,120. By comparison, Rolling Hills Estates charges $46,616 and Inglewood charges $37,692. In all, 13 municipalities rake in more than $20,000 for each round of permits.

Cities often base their fees on the valuation of the project. The environmental group suggests using specific review times and billable hourly rates instead.


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-- Tiffany Hsu