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By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) -The Biden administration on Thursday will roll out a tool that enables instant local permitting of rooftop solar installations, addressing a major source of industry delays and possibly lowering costs for homeowners, the Energy Department said.
The Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP+) platform, developed by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will be an optional portal for local governments to process permit applications automatically.
Approvals typically take a week or more currently, and permit-related costs can account for about a third of installers' overall costs, DOE said. The software speeds the process up by standardizing requirements, streamlining the application and automating some approvals.
Administration officials said the software will help speed adoption of rooftop solar and achieve President Joe Biden's goal of decarbonizing the U.S. electricity grid by 2035, a key pillar of his plan to address climate change. DOE has said that solar energy will need to be installed at a pace as much as five times faster than it is today to realize that goal.
"Having streamlined processes and an automated permitting platform that can make it faster, easier and cheaper for homeowners to go solar promises to really help expand the residential solar sector," Becca Jones-Albertus, director of DOE's solar energy technologies office, said in an interview.
Obtaining permits through local building departments has often proved to be a "pain point" for solar companies, according to Jones-Albertus. About a third of rooftop solar installations take more than two weeks for the permit process, DOE said.
SolarAPP+ was tested in four communities in Arizona and California starting last year. In Tucson, the portal reduced permitting review times from an average of 20 days to zero, the agency said.
An official from Stockton, California, a city that recently decided to adopt the SolarAPP tool, said it will free up staffers who have managed a 26% rise in solar applications over the last five years. It also allows homeowners to conduct the permitting process online rather than in person.
"It's rare that you can find something that works this well for all of the parties involved," John Alita, Stockton's deputy city manager, said during a DOE webinar to unveil the tool.
The portal performs an automatic review of permit applications, approving eligible systems instantly. Complex or ineligible systems are re-routed for additional review.
Local governments will not have to pay for the portal, DOE said. DOE is challenging 125 mayors and local officials to sign up for the SolarAPP tool before the end of the summer.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)