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City plans for solar surge

Energy: Officials say growth in alternative energy has been made cheaper by permitting process

Posted: February 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Installer Javier Alvarado carries one of 202 solar panels to be placed on the roof of the Newhall County Water District Administration building in Newhall in 2010.

 

The city of Santa Clarita is using the affordability of solar panels, modules and local permitting to encourage homes and business to install systems through its 7-year-old solar permitting process, according to officials.

Since the program’s 2005 inception, the city has approved 13 commercial solar permits, totaling an estimated 2.8 megawatts. That can power about 2,500 homes.

“We’ve definitely seen a growth, and that’s something we’ve wanted to get out,” said Dave Peterson, assistant planner.”

The city has marketed how a commercial property could get started if considering solar power. The city has a website, www.greensantaclarita.com, which provides information on 10 local solar providers that are certified by the state.

Solar permitting is significantly cheaper in Santa Clarita than in other Los Angeles County cities, the city says. Building permits for commercial solar projects are $1,700, whereas some L.A. County cities charge an average of $10,000, a December statement from the city said.

A November 2011 report from the Sierra Club said there are 12 cities in L.A. County charging more than $20,000 for a commercial solar permit and concluded that, generally, permit prices are too high in the county.

Many of the 13 commercial permits have come from bigger businesses, such as Kohl’s and J.C. Penney.

“Corporate offices are making a real push toward alternative energy,” Peterson said.

Solar module prices dropped approximately 40 percent from 2007 to 2010, and by another 40 percent in 2011, according to a statement from BioSolar Inc., a Santa Clarita-based solar developer.

Peterson said the city does not receive any special sales tax or other financial benefit from solar permits. However, more citywide alternative energy use will decrease citywide emissions, he said.

Consumers reap the benefits of declining solar prices, but it means thinner profit margins for the manufacturers of solar panels and modules. BioSolar announced it has plans to expand its markets and partners in response to the declining prices.

BioSolar’s main products are bio-based components that can replace petroleum-based parts on plastic PV panels. This switch would cut the costs for solar panel manufacturers, which is especially necessary as the price of panels keeps declining.

The local company said it should be able to capitalize on the manufacturers’ needs to cut costs.

“The competitive pressure to reduce the cost of  in efforts by manufacturers to cut component costs, including the cost of backsheets,” the statement said.

Backsheets are the bottom layer of a fully assembled solar panel, and is the part that BioSolar produces.

Representatives from BioSolar were not available to comment on their expansion plans. 

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