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January 22, 2019

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How North Las Vegas is streamlining solar projects

Vivint Solar

COURTESY

In this file photo, Vivint Solar employees install solar panels on a home.

To keep up with the growing interest in green energy, North Las Vegas has created a program that speeds the permitting process for residential solar projects.

The fast-track solar permitting program, rolled out two months ago, was modeled after the city’s already successful self-certification program for commercial projects. That program cut wait times from up to 90 days to minutes after it started in 2017, city spokeswoman Delen Goldberg said.

“Both of these programs highlight how we do business in North Las Vegas — quickly, efficiently and with customer service at the forefront,” Goldberg said. “Our city leadership has cut red tape and bureaucracy to make processes easier, more friendly and more cost-effective for our residents and the businesses that invest in North Las Vegas.”

Statewide legislation last year that reintroduced net metering for rooftop solar customers led to an uptick in permits for green energy projects in North Las Vegas. Net metering is the arrangement that allows homeowners with solar panels to sell surplus electricity to the power company.

In the past 11 months, the city has processed 2,166 permits, more than four times the 516 it processed in 2017, Goldberg said.

“We noticed a huge spike in the number of permits coming through North Las Vegas,” she said. “It went from a fairly regular stream of a handful here, a handful there, to these companies bringing 40, 50 applications at one time.”

Because of the number of applications being submitted at once, wait times for permits increased from a single day to upwards of two weeks, said Tony Vibabul, the city’s permit application center manager.

The delay would often lead to order cancellations.

“For every one-week delay due to permitting, inspection and interconnection processes, the industry sees up to a 5 to 10 percent cancellation rate of prospective solar customers,” said Karyn Boenker, public policy manager for solar company Sunrun.

Like the self-certification program, the fast-track solar permitting program focuses on meeting increased demand by streamlining the city’s approval process and allowing companies to begin installation while parts of the application are still under review.

Before the program, companies provided the city with multipage specifications for an installation, including the location, wattage of the house and the types of materials the project would utilize, along with a blueprint.

The city would then sift through the plan to ensure the project met safety requirements, even for the most standard of installations, Vibabul said.

The new process synthesizes all of the safety information into a single-page worksheet that companies fill out and submit. This puts all of the basic information to green-light the project in one place and allows the department to approve a permit in 24 hours or less, Vibabul said.

Once the company receives the permit, it prints it and takes it with the blueprints to the work site, where it will later be inspected during an onsite visit during installation, said Rob Kowalczik, president of Robco Electric, another supplier of solar equipment.

“We do the same review and audits that we would do, we just do them on a different timetable,” Goldberg said. “The fact that things are being done faster in no way means they’re being done less diligently. We just changed the order of the way we do things to improve customer service and efficiency for the user.”

The city and the solar companies hope the changes lead to fewer canceled projects and more interest in green energy.

“If we can do more things in the same amount of time, we’re going to be able to turn out more jobs,” Kowalczik said.

Saving time and money could also lead companies to bring more projects to North Las Vegas.

“And that’s good for everyone,” Goldberg said. “It creates jobs. It creates [a] tax base so we can provide more money for libraries and police and all that good stuff...It helps the city, and that helps us do more for our residents.”