PennFuture Reduces the Costs of Solar in Western PA

There are a number of factors that determine the overall costs of installing a solar system on your roof. Prices for inverters, panels and racking, labor costs, land and roof leases are just a few. But perhaps the most under-looked factors are the so-called “soft” costs that are folded into the final system payment. These include processes for permitting, financing, interconnection, inspection, and sometimes zoning, to install panels on a residential roof. When factoring in the administrative costs and fees for these processes, they can add up to 30% of the costs of an entire system!

These processes will always be necessary to safely regulate the electricity grid, but a lot can be done to make them more efficient to reduce costs. PennFuture, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, is teaming up with industry groups and municipal officials to do just that.

The coalition spearheaded by PennFuture recently received a grant for just over $315,000 from the Department of Energy (DOE) to streamline the soft costs of installing solar in 23 participating municipalities in western Pennsylvania. The grant comes from the DOE Sunshot Initiative. From coordinating with manufacturers, installers, customers, and municipal officials, the program identifies barriers to installing solar and offers solutions like the soft costs grant to PennFuture. Heather Sage, vice president of PennFuture, credits the strength of their coalition to winning the grant.

The competition for this grant was tough, and I believe that breadth of our coalition and our burgeoning solar industry helped us to get this Sunshot Rooftop Solar Challenge money,” she stated.

Leveraging support from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Allegheny County municipal officials, Congress of Neighboring Communities, Solar Unified Network of Western Pennsylvania, and the Green Building Alliance, the coalition has 23 municipalities that have agreed to use a standard process for permitting, inspection, and interconnection. In addition to the model built by PennFuture and its partners, grant money will be used to educate and train industry professionals in western Pennsylvania that will administer the new processes. The coalition already has plans to extend the model to an additional 50 communities across the state.

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