Permitting issues block solar energy connections

 

The Energy Element of the draft General Plan Update includes policies that encourage alternative energy use but an alternative energy engineer has told the Board of Supervisors that some of his clients can’t feed solar energy back into the grid because their homes aren’t permitted.

When supervisors reviewed the Energy Element at a July 22 hearing, they supported incentives for energy efficiency and using alternative energy systems. But during a public comment session, Daniel Tittmann of the Redway-based Greenwired Alternative Energy Solutions company said Pacific Gas and Electric Company customers who want to “backfeed” solar energy are sometimes thwarted due to permitting issues.

He said his company has been getting “numerous denials” for inter-connecting solar systems to the grid “based on the fact that there are no existing permitted structures on the parcels to begin with.”

The county’s Planning and Building Department has to sign off on inter-connection applications and Tittmann said he’s hoping the county can find a way to allow them despite permitting glitches. The issue was revisited later in the meeting, when an implementation measure on alternative energy use was reviewed.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell highlighted Tittmann’s concerns and Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg said a plan for addressing them is in the works – the county is developing a program dubbed Safe Homes that would consider non-punitive approaches to permitting issues when safety and housing condition improvements are made.

Mary Whitmore of Myers Flat told supervisors that permitting snags often involve technicalities that aren’t due to deliberate rule-breaking. She said she found out her permit to use her property throughout the year wasn’t grandfathered when regulations changed, preventing her from replacing an electrical panel.

Many property owners have similar experiences, Whitmore added. “In not all cases is it a matter of them being guilty of some transgression against the county,” she said.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace also mentioned the formative Safe Homes program as a means of handling the dilemmas. “There’s properties that have changed hands many times and people who have bought property innocently, not knowing they’ve acquired some past transgression,” he said.

Fennell said the issue is important but agreed that the best way to help people through those situations is with a program outside of the update process.

Supervisors supported policies on establishing energy conservation standards and identifying areas for alternative energy production projects. A policy requiring developers to use energy efficient landscape design was amended to merely encourage the method, which Lovelace objected to in one of the few non-unanimous straw votes in a series.

Supervisors will finish work on the Energy Element, revisit unfinished policies from the Forest Resources section of the update and start work on the Land Use Designation section when they meet next on August 23 for an all-day hearing.