Big increase in Encinitas rooftop solar permits


More Encinitas homes are turning a shade of green.

Encinitas saw a big spike in rooftop solar systems in 2015, which two people interviewed for this article attributed to the city waiving solar permitting fees, the cost of the technology falling and residents fearing the end of state and federal incentives.

Last year, the city issued 747 permits for rooftop solar, double the total in 2014. In 2013, there were 231 permits, with 373 in 2014. All told, more than 10 percent of the city’s roughly 20,000 single-family homes now have solar energy, according to city figures.

“You hear that San Diego County is a model for solar in California, and California is a model for the nation,” said Kerry Kusiak, senior planner with the city. “In Encinitas, we’re at least at the pace of San Diego County in solar permits and maybe even higher.”

Locally speaking, Encinitas has sought to encourage solar. Notably, the Encinitas council in 2012 waived the $320 city fee for most new rooftop solar systems in an attempt to meet clean energy goals in its climate action plan. The program was approved as a one-year pilot, and the council has extended it each year.

Encinitas was also one of the first in San Diego County to implement state AB 2188, which required all cities to expedite and standardize the permitting process for residential rooftop systems. That includes a simplified solar permitting checklist and allowing more electronic plan submittals.

Kusiak said the city in many cases accepts solar permit plans over email, and it’s looking to set up online software on the city’s website that would make the process easier.

Based on recent demand, he added that he expects the strong pace of rooftop solar permits to continue.

Many turned to solar in 2015 because the federal investment tax credit for solar energy was slated to expire in 2016, said resident Lane Sharman, the chief financial officer of Transform Realty Partners, which specializes in providing clean energy for buildings.

“This created a big pressure point and people acted,” Sharman said.

However, U.S. lawmakers last month unexpectedly reached an energy compromise, and as part of it, extended the 30 percent solar tax credit through 2019. It will gradually decline to 10 percent in 2022. “That is a major factor that will continue the development of solar projects,” Sharman said.

Sharman said many pursued solar in 2015 so they would be grandfathered into “net metering,” which lets homeowners offset their electric bill with solar energy.

The solar industry and solar users feared the California Public Utilities Commission would scrap or pull back on net metering. But last month, the commission proposed that the system remain largely intact.

He added the cost of solar technology has fallen considerably in recent years.

“Even if there are regulatory changes, solar will become less expensive,” Sharman said.