Economy June 6, 2016 | 3:42 pm

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How New York is hindering solar dnergy

New York.- With his Reforming the Energy Vision plan, Governor Cuomois making the push to wean the state of its fossil fuel dependency and generate50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. Solar energy isan essential part of this plan, and through programs like NY-Sun the solarmarket has expanded, growing 575% since 2011. But despite tax incentives andthe long-term financial benefits of making the switch, rooftop solar panelsremain something of a rarity in New York. Too often it is not the cost ofinstallment that is deterring homeowners, but rather the seemingly infinitenumber of steps that must be taken before installation can even begin.

First, a homeowner must contact the Department of Building(DOB) and Con Edison to procure a solar installation permit. If the installationinterferes with existing fire codes they must then reach out to the FireDepartment (FDNY). Incomprehensibly, the FDNY does not accept applicationselectronically and will not be able to do so until as late as 2019. Then theDOB has to come out to inspect the building, but specifying a time forinspection can be frustratingly difficult. After all of that, applying for aproperty tax abatement, which would reduce taxes on a solarized property and isa major financial incentive for solar, is a whole separate process.

In the past, there has been no standard permitting processacross the state’s 1,550 municipalities, and the varying local processes resultin project delays and additional costs. Not only is the overly complicatedpermitting process scaring homeowners away from solar energy, it is alsocosting those who do decide to switch more money. A study on the impactpermitting has on the cost of solar found overly complicated local permittingand inspection adds $2,516 to each residential installation. Standardizing theprocess can make solar affordable for 50% of American homes and deliver theequivalent of a new $1 billion solar subsidy over 5 years.

There have been positive improvements. The DOB has cut thepermit wait time from 4-8 weeks to only 2. To encourage homes and businesses toinstall solar, there have been 26 community Solarize Campaigns across the stateso far. These locally organized outreach efforts work to make solar easier andmore affordable. Due to the Solarize Westchester campaign, the county was ableto add panels to over 200 homes. Campaigns ranging from the Finger Lakes regionto Albany have started with similar success by simplifying the process forconsumers and providing clear information about available incentives and financingoptions for solar.

Governor Cuomo did make an effort to streamline municipalpermitting processes across the state with the NYS Unified Solar Permit in2013. But acquiring a solar permit remains extremely difficult. The currentbureaucratic processes need to be rethought to ensure permitting does nothinder the growth of the solar industry so New York can reach its renewableenergy goals.

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