Obama admin wants to cut solar power red tape

The Obama administration’s latest bid to shrink the amount of red tape that homeowners and business people have to go through to install rooftop solar power systems is taking firm shape now. Some $12 million in funding that was put up for grabs last December in a competitive process is now pegged to go to eight teams around the country to pursue policy and permitting-process innovations.

This is the second round of the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, part of the larger SunShot Initiative that’s been the administration’s most robust effort to make solar economically competitive with conventional electricity sources. In the U.S., that principally means reducing “soft costs”– basically, everything except the equipment in a solar power system. They’ve been held responsible for keeping U.S. residential installed solar cost closer to $6 per watt, while in Germany the figure is closer to $3/W and in Australia it’s around $4/W. The DOE has called reducing these costs “the greatest challenge to achieving cost-competitive solar by 2020.”

image via U.S. Department of Energy

With Rootop Solar Challenge I, the administration in 2011 handed out grants to 22 teams, each of whom had its own scheme for attacking soft costs – schemes like developing an online multiagency portal in New York City; or pruning local ordinances in Broward County, Fla.; or creating and then comparing unique pilot programs in five communicates Massachusetts.

The DOE claims that the “aggregated efforts of Rooftop Solar Challenge I teams cut permitting time by 40 percent and reduced permitting costs by 12 percent for more than 47 million Americans, cutting hundreds of years of red tape from the process of going solar.”

An example of the new round of programs, the Washington State Department of Commerce will head up a big group of entities from Washington and Oregon under the umbrella “Pacific Northwest Solar Partnership.” According to the DOE:

The collaborative project will establish “solar ready” corridors and simple online permitting and common interconnection processes for 80% of residents. The effort will also continue to expand innovative, locally developed financing solutions such as community solar and Solarize programs to provide access to financing options in every utility territory in the two-state region.

The DOE said that the $12 million going to the eight teams in Rooftop Solar Challenge II will be supplemented with $4 million in outside funding.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling