Lower cost encourages other energy sources
Morgan Hill – Weeks after a Sierra Club report criticized the city’s permitting fees for solar energy projects, the fees have been dramatically reduced.

Under new city policy, the cost of a permit for a standard residential solar panel installation will be slashed by as much as 60 percent. The actual discount will depend on the size of the project.

City Manager Ed Tewes said the reduction reflects ” a change of approach” in the city’s building department and that the city will recover its costs with the new fee structure. A memo prepared by the building department says the fees should encourage the use of alternative energy sources and that further reductions may be ahead.

Over the last three years, the city has permitted an average of 12 residential solar projects with a value usually between $15,000 and $25,000. Before the fee change, the typical $25,000 project incurred $1,062 in permit fees.

In the Sierra Club report, Morgan Hill had the fifth highest rates among 40 Bay Area cities. Gilroy had one of the lowest rates, with fees just more than $400.

Stan Van Velsor, the global warming program coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta chapter, praised the move. He said the new rate, about $400, resembles what the Sierra Club recommended in its study.

“That’s tremendous,” Van Velsor said. “It’s reasonable from the standpoint of not creating a disincentive to install solar units in homes.”

But the change may be too late for local businessman Bob Kushner, who helped inspire the move. In October, Kushner complained to the city council about the $5,389 in fees he paid to install a $256,000 solar panel project on his Monterey Road office building.

Kushner has petitioned the city for a refund. Mayor Dennis Kennedy said Monday he would search for a precedent on the matter before deciding how to proceed.

“What we probably should do is take a look and see if there is a precedent that might be involved before we act on that,” he said. “It’s too soon to make a statement until we see what the issues are.”

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