City of Benicia, CA Builds Solar Permit Application with Feedback from Installers

It was a big Earth Day for the City of Benicia as it celebrates the launch of a digital solar permitting process. In an effort to make solar permitting more efficient for installers who are providing a cleaner energy source to residents, the City has designed a simple two-step process that can be completed all online:

  1. Obtain pre-approval from SolarAPP+, which will check if an application complies with code.

Benefits of Online Solar Permitting

Jonathan Schellin, Management Analyst at the City of Benicia, led and coordinated the implementation of this new solar permit. Read on as he offers his advice and perspective for other communities looking to modernize this process and make the switch to online solar permitting. 

How was the City managing solar permits before launching this new process and how has it changed?

Prior to the SolarAPP+ integration, installers had to apply via the standard building permit process. Because of adjustments to the process made due to COVID, over-the-counter permit issuance was no longer conducted, and therefore, permits could end up taking several days to be issued.

With this new process, permits are immediately issued after the application has been submitted and fees are paid, all online, without the need of inspectors to review diagrams or to go onsite.

Do you have any advice to share or any lessons learned for other communities who may be interested in digitizing their solar permit process?

As for lessons learned, it was a fairly straightforward process to integrate SolarAPP+ into OpenGov once we had the parameters for our City established. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was great to work with, and getting feedback from the solar installer community was essential to working out any pitfalls. 

It only took a few application walkthroughs to work out the application to permitting process, with payment and permit issuance working as expected. 

What was the most difficult part of the setup process?

The most difficult part was how to handle resubmittals/field changes, which came down to communicating to the installers that they’ll need to start back with SolarAPP+ to obtain a new pre-approval #, and then communicate with our Dev Techs so that we can update the record accordingly.

How will the City be handling inspections for solar permits now?

As for inspections, it was definitely a change for our inspectors to rely entirely on a checklist and no diagram, but the training material provided by SolarAPP+ was very helpful, and after a few inspections, they have become comfortable with the checklist only approach.

Overall, I can only hope all adoptions of new processes/technology go as smoothly as this did. The big keys to success were constant communication with the installer community for testing/feedback, keeping an open mind with our staff and their concerns, and finally making sure all stakeholders (dev techs, building official, inspectors, installers, OpenGov, and NREL/SolarAPP+) were aware of changes and able to immediately provide feedback.

Make the Move to Online Solar Permitting 

Improve internal processes, while bettering your inspector experience, by moving to online solar permitting. Then, by Earth Day, your team can celebrate a paperless permitting process.

The Benicia Permit Center was built using OpenGov Citizen Services.  The solar permit was built in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Learn more about OpenGov’s partnership with SolarAPP+ here.

Category: Citizen Services for Permitting & Licensing

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