Renewable Energy in California

California has ambitious plans for renewable energy. 33% of electricity in the state must come from renewable energy by 2020. Governor Brown’s "Clean Energy Jobs Plan" includes a goal of 12,000 megawatts of "distributed" or local renewable energy generation from smaller systems, of up to 20 megawatts capacity. Local renewable energy generation has the greatest value for the electric system when it is located in areas where capacity to meet existing electricity demand is constrained. The California Independent System Operator identifies these "Local Capacity Requirement Areas" and they are shown on maps, under "Local Reliability Areas with Transmission Lines and Substations for 2011."

The California Public Utilities Commission has directed the investor-owned utilities to implement several programs to purchase electricity from distributed renewable energy systems, including the Renewable Auction Mechanism (projects up to 20 megawatt capacity), Feed-In Tariff program (which will expand from up to 1.5 megawatt projects to 3 megawatt projects in 2012), and the utility Photovoltaic Solar programs. These programs will lead to a substantial increase in applications to local governments for renewable energy system permits.

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California Solar Permitting Guidebook, Third Edition

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the California Building Standards Commission and the Government Operations Agency have updated the Solar Permitting Guidebook in response to new legislative orders and updated building codes. The focus of the Winter 2017 Update includes highlighted changes to Appendices 3, 4 and 7 as well as relevant National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Tentative Interim Amendments (TIA). We hope these serve as useful resources as jurisdictions across California continue to expand solar energy.

Solar Permitting Guidebook - Winter 2017 (Third Edition)
Solar Permitting Guidebook 2015 (Second Edition)

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is pleased to release the second edition of the California Solar Permitting Guidebook. Developed in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Energy and with input from a task force of participants from state code agencies, local building departments and the solar industry, this updated document reflects recent changes to the building code and new legislation. This update will also help address the requirements of the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act (formerly Assembly Bill 2188, signed into law by Governor Brown in September.

The Solar Permitting Efficiency Act requires the state’s cities and counties to adopt streamlined solar permitting processes by Sept. 30, 2015. Adopting a modernized and standardized permitting process for installations of small-scale solar distributed generation technology on residential rooftops will increase the deployment of solar distributed generation, help to expand access to lower income households, provide solar customers greater installation ease, improve the state’s ability to reach its clean energy goals, and generate much needed jobs in the state, all while maintaining safety standards. The Second Edition of this Guidebook lays out a safe, standardized, and streamlined permitting process that can be adopted by most local governments with only minor changes to reflect local requirements.

While the price of photovoltaic solar has fallen by half since 2006, “soft costs” such as permitting remain high. An expedited permitting process would mean applicants for solar PV systems up to 10 kilowatts that fit certain criteria could use an online application process and expect over-the-counter or rapid approval by the local permitting agency.

California is a world leader in renewable energy generation. Solar and wind power, as well as emerging technologies such as biomass and fuel cells, are transforming California. Renewable energy is helping to power the state’s economy, reducing our state’s reliance on imported energy sources, and decreasing air pollution. Accordingly, local and state governments in California have taken strong steps to expand renewable energy generation, including a statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that at least one-third of the state’s electricity come from clean energy sources by 2020. A concurrent goal put in place by Governor Brown sets the goal of developing 12,000 megawatts of small-scale renewable energy—often called “Distributed Generation”—in California communities. Many cities and counties have additional renewable energy policies and laws.

In order to turn these ambitious goals into reality and expand small-scale renewable energy in California’s communities, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has been working to remove barriers that constrain expansion of small-scale renewables. The Solar Permitting Guidebook is an important step toward this goal. The Guidebook explains current requirements for solar PV installations, describes key steps in the permitting process, and recommends ways to improve local permitting. It also includes several template documents that local governments can customize for their own use to improve permitting. The guidebook can also be helpful beyond local governments, providing useful information to solar contractors and property owners.

California Solar Permitting Guidebook, Spring 2015 Edition

Submittal Requirements for Permit Applications (pdf) (word)
Eligibility Checklist for Expedited Permitting Template (pdf) (word)
Central/String Inverter Application Template (pdf) (word)
Microinverter and ACM Application Template (pdf) (word)
Structural Criteria Template(pdf) (word)
Sample Interdepartmental Memorandum of Understanding (for Plan Review and Inspection) (pdf) (word)
Inspection guide for PV systems (pdf) (word)

Submittal Requirements Bulletin — Solar Domestic Water Heating Installations 30 kWth or Less for One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)
Submittal Requirements Bulletin — Solar Pool Heating Installations 30 kWth or Less for One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)
Eligibility Checklist for Expedited Solar Domestic Water Heating Permitting for One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)
Eligibility Checklist for Expedited Solar Pool Heating Permitting for One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)
Solar Domestic Water Heating Standard Plan for One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf)
Solar Pool Heating Standard Plan for One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)
Structural Criteria for Residential Rooftop Solar Energy Installations(pdf) (word)
Inspection Guide for SDWH Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)
Inspection Guide for Solar Pool Heating Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings(pdf) (word)

Many California jurisdictions have adopted a streamlined solar permitting ordinance. Some of the California jurisdictions with streamlined permitting processes include:
1. City of Brisbane
2. City of Claremont
3. City of Fremont
4. City of Los Angeles
5. City of Manteca
6. City of Newport Beach
7. City of Redlands
8. County of Los Angeles

If you believe your jurisdiction should be added to the list, please contact Samuel Diaz at>

Additional resources for jurisdictions adopting a streamlined solar permitting ordinance are located on the Center for Sustainable Energy website, including a model implementation guide and model ordinance:
Implementation Guide for AB 2188
Model Ordinance

Structural Technical Appendix for Residential Rooftop Solar Installations

Structural Technical Appendix for Residential Rooftop Solar Installations

Building Permits for Solar Energy Systems

Description: Photo of men assemblying a section of solar parabolic mirrors at LUZ SEGS solar plant Recent statutes like the Solar Rights Act and SB 226 have been put in place to ensure fewer obstacles to the increased use of both residential and commercial solar photovoltaic systems.

As renewable energy resources continue to grow in California, the ultimate goal is to develop an expedited, efficient statewide solar permitting process.  The implementation of a more time-bound process will allow for the state of California to maximize its renewable energy potential, providing for more seamless integration of solar technology into our communities as well as the creation of a more effective market for solar energy.



American Planning Association’s Planning Advisory Service—Solar America Communities Outreach Partnership


Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (SolarABCs)


State Fire Marshall—to aid in the design, review and approval of rooftop PV systems


From the California Energy Commission—for electricity generation and transmission planning and permitting


Oregon Department of Energy, July 2005


U.S. Department of Energy—aimed to local governments and stakeholders in the construction of a viable local solar market.

Local Renewable Energy Facility Permitting

Statewide Model County Ordinance: The California County Planning Directors Association developed a Model Solar Energy Facility Permit Streamlining Ordinance, Model Renewable Energy Combining Zone Ordinance, and Solar Energy Facility Permit Streamlining Guide.

Several counties have adopted ordinances to govern processing renewable energy facilities, including:

  • San Diego County Amendment to Ordinance Related to Small, Medium and Large Wind Turbine Systems (No. 10073), and Solar Energy Ordinance (No. 10072)
  • Santa Clara County Ordinance For Commercial Solar Energy Conversion Systems (NS-1200.331)
  • Yolo County adopted an ordinance to govern review of small and medium sized solar energy facilities on September 27, 2011 (see Attachment A to agenda) and adopted an ordinance for large/very large solar energy facilities on October 11, 2011 (see Attachment A to agenda).
  • Inyo County adopted an ordinance that provides for renewable energy permits, or alternatively, a renewable energy development agreement.
  • San Luis Obispo County has an ordinance that governs all electric generating facilities, including solar and wind.  (County Code Title 22, Land Use Ordinance, Article 4, Chapter 22.32)
  • Alameda County is considering adopting policies for solar energy development in rural areas.

Counties may use a “combining district” ordinance for renewable energy projects.

Description: Photo of solar panel array below a blue sky with cloudsCEQA and Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Participation:  Some local renewable projects include interconnection equipment that will become the property of the electric utility. For the investor-owned utilities, this triggers the need for PUC approval of these equipment upgrades.  In doing its review, the PUC will rely on the CEQA analysis conducted by the local government if it determines that the local review was adequate.  Therefore, local governments should designate the PUC as a responsible agency that receives all CEQA notices for the project, so the PUC has the opportunity to participate.

Note: If you have a proposed or adopted renewable energy facility ordinance to post here, please contact OPR.



Programs for Installing Solar Systems on Buildings (including parking lots)

Cost-effective methods and post-installation benefits available to installers, designed to encourage participation in the growing solar community

Solar Group Buy Programs
  • SunShares Model – this program was originated by City of San Jose; Bay Area Climate Collaborative used the San Jose model to develop guidance and tools for other local governments and private businesses to establish solar group buy programs for their employees
  • California School Boards Association – Solar Schools Program
  •  Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s  Purchasing Power: Best Practices Guide to Collaborative Solar Procurement (2011 World Resources Institute/Joint Venture Silicon Valley)
  • Open Neighborhoods Solar Program -- Santa Monica/Los Angeles area
  • Residential Solar Group Buy Guide – US Dept. of Energy, Solar America Communities Program
  • Solar Master Plans for Public Schools – KyotoUSA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have completed  Solar Master Plans for the Berkeley, Oakland and West Contra Costa School Districts.  These plans provide a roadmap for other school districts or local governments to follow to methodically evaluate the potential for solar systems at their facilities.

Rebates for Installing Solar Systems

New Residences:

Existing Residences: 


PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) – Renewable Energy System Financing

A way for local governments to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy systems on private buildings using municipal bonds or other funds; the loan is secured and is repaid on the property tax bill, and the repayment obligation runs with the land. 

Existing PACE Programs:

Many other cities and counties plan to establish PACE programs, but are delayed by a dispute with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Federal legislation is proposed to resolve the issues, and litigation is also underway. For updates on PACE, please see this website.

Fact Sheets

The CA Energy Commission and the Air Resources Board have posted fact sheets summarizing the 2030 climate goals that the Governor proposed in his inaugural address.