It’s 4 p.m. in Santa Clarita, late July. The temperature’s just over 100 degrees, and a solar installation, bolted diagonally into the side of a shingled roof, radiates with heat.
For the past eight hours it’s basked in the sunshine, its photovoltaic panels converting the light into electricity. Below, the air conditioner clicks on.
With an average of over 3200 hours of sunshine a year, there aren’t many places in the United States with brighter weather than Santa Clarita.
In an attempt to convert this abundant natural capital into clean energy and diminutive utility bills, many Santa Clarita residents have chosen to invest in solar energy systems for their homes.
The City of Santa Clarita issued between 1,000 and 1,500 solar permits for individual households over the last year, according to City Building and Safety Official John Caprarelli.
Comparatively speaking to a decade ago, Caprarelli said, this figure is a lot.
“From 2012 to 2013 is when we saw a real sharp increase in solar energy systems,” he said. “We went from issuing a dozen permits a year, to issuing over 1,000 a year.”
Solar’s impending ubiquity, however, has not come without challenges. While the California Energy Commission voted in May that all new housing developments must come with built-in solar systems by 2020, those who own existing homes without solar technology must nativagte issues of cost and permitting in order to purchase the systems.
The average cost of a 4 kilowatt residential system, typical for single-family homes, is roughly $34,000, according to Go Solar California.
A variety of state and federal incentives, however, exist to help offset the high cost of solar.
The California Solar Initiative offers cash rebates of up to $10,000 to customers of Southern California Edison, the largest provider in Santa Clarita, who opt to install solar systems.
The payoffs from these programs, however, may not be available in the future.
“Because of the declining rebates in the California solar programs, the sooner you install your system, the better your incentive and rebate will be,” reads Go Solar California’s website.
A variety of federal subsidies exist as well. Legislators have expanded the Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, to encompass solar installations until at least 2021, at which time the program may be renewed.
The ITC is equal to up to 30 percent of the cost of the overall system, with no upper limit.
As for monthly utility bills, some Santa Clarita homeowners with solar say they spend only a few hundred dollars a year for their electricity.
After having procured the funds needed to install a system, perspective solar-owners must obtain the necessary permitting from their respective homeowners association (HOA) and from the City of Santa Clarita.
In recent years, residents have raised their concerns that HOA’s may reject solar proposal on the grounds that the installations are inconsistent with the association’s uniform architectural standards.
State law, however, is favorable to solar installation.
The Solar Rights Act of 1978 mandates that HOAs cannot bar their residents from installing solar panels, although they do retain the right to impose “reasonable restrictions” on proposed installations.
AB 2188, passed in 2014, states that these restrictions can not exceed more than $1,000 in extra installation costs or diminish the efficiency of the system by more than 10 percent.
Residents who live within the City of Santa Clarita must obtain a permit from the Building and Safety Department in order to to fit their homes with solar systems.
“When you put a solar energy system on your roof you’re really installing an electrical utility, and if not installed properly they could potentially be unsafe,” Caprarelli said.
In general, solar contractors will apply for the proper permitting on behalf of the homeowner, Caprarelli said.
Contractors, he said, must submit plans showing how the proposed installation will comply with building and safety codes.
“We have established a streamlined process for residential solar projects,” he said. “We complete our review of the plans in three business days, maximum.”
Despite the city’s transparent application process, Caprarelli explained that it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many solar developments take place within the valley.
“Some of the work gets done under LA County jurisdiction then gets annexed into the city,” he said. “It’s not as simple as just going and seeing how many solar permits we’ve issued .”