Lawmakers take up solar-panel fees
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” After passing legislation aimed at making Colorado a national leader in renewable energy, state lawmakers are taking a look at whether it has become too expensive for ordinary homeowners to join the push.
At issue are the building permits that cities and counties charge to approve plans and inspect solar panels installed on residential rooftops. While Denver charges $59 for a permit, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said some cities in the metro area are charging around $1,000.
The Senate backed his proposal (Senate Bill 117) to cap residential permits at $300. Permits for installation of solar panels on top of businesses could cost as much as $1,000.
But local government groups opposed the bill because they said it might cause them to have to raise the price of other building permit fees to make up the difference. A House committee changed the bill to allow cities and counties to charge enough to recover their costs but the Senate rejected that amendment.
Representatives from both chambers are scheduled to try to work out their differences on Tuesday.
Pat Ratliff, a lobbyist for Colorado Counties Inc., said some inspecting solar projects is still new for many cities and counties and they don’t have experts on staff who are familiar with the systems to quickly handle them. She expects the fees will come down as governments gain more experience working with them. She said her group wants the conference committee to stick with the House version.
But Mitchell said it doesn’t have any guidelines to make sure that governments are only charging their actual costs. The conference committee is made up of lawmakers friendly to renewable energy and he expects to be able to stick with his limits. If committee members approve that, the full House and Senate would also have to agree.
Mitchell thinks solar energy will provide only a modest contribution to the state’s energy supply but he doesn’t think governments should make it any harder for homeowners willing to spend money to produce their own energy.
“Solar is a borderline efficient technology. Adding unreasonable costs stretches out the payback period beyond what makes economic sense,” he said.
Blake Jones, president of Namaste Solar Power in Boulder, said the average system being installed in Xcel Energy’s territory costs about $32,000 but tax credits and rebates bring the final cost to around $12,000. He said prices need to drop further, including the permit fees, in order for solar energy to become more widespread.
Elsewhere this week:
– The Senate will start reviewing the $17.6 billion state budget on Monday. The House approved the spending proposal last week.
– The House Judiciary Committee will consider increasing penalties for drunk drivers on Wednesday (House Bill 1194).
– The committee will also vote on House Bill 1351, which requires that authorities preserve DNA evidence in felony cases for the lifetime of defendants. Another measure (Senate Bill 205) being considered this year would require that convicted criminals get a new trial if DNA evidence used against them is destroyed.
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a limited-liability company has proper standing to sue the city of Aspen over its affordable-housing fees.