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Overwhelming PV demand sparks Honolulu to permit solar online

A solar installation in HawaiiDue to the crushing demand for more solar in Hawaii as costs for solar have reached grid parity there, Honolulu has moved to an online permitting system for residential and small-scale photovoltaic arrays. In making the move the city said solar permitting had monopolized the permitting offices resources as the number of solar applications has tripled annually over the past few years.

“Over the past three years, the number of photovoltaic permits has built up to a point of having a big impact on the Department of Planning and Permitting’s resources,” said Jiro Sumada, deputy director of Department of Planning and Permitting with the City and County of Honolulu. In fiscal year 2010 the department issued 1,298 permits. That rose to 3,231 in 2011, and 9,096 last fiscal year. “For several months, there had been long lines at the Permit Center, forcing applicants to wait several hours just to get their building permit applications into our system. The new online system for permitting residential PV systems makes it easier for those customers to get their permits quickly, and also allows our staff to help other building permit customers process their permit applications,” he said. 

The system already is drastically helping to speed the process up. “From Thursday, September 20, when the online system was launched, to noon September 27, 953 photovoltaic permits had been issued. This includes 58 permits over the weekend because contractors are now able to obtain permits 24/7,” Sumada said. The department’s daily bulletin, available here, shows the volume of new permits.

Contractors that do business with the City and County of Honolulu must be licensed by the state of Hawaii. This includes confirmation of being bonded and insured,” Sumada said. Under the new permitting process, the permit is only needed once. “The only time a secondary permit is required is when there is meter work, for either an upgrade or replacement of the meter. Before a permit is closed, the work must be approved by a DPP inspector.”

At this point the system only covers Honolulu. “Each of the state’s four counties has its own building permit application process,” Sumada said. In the future they may also opt to adopt an online permitting process but he didn’t know if they had any plans to do so. 

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