In May of 2015 Novo Solar Solutions owner Mark Tizya attended the Renewable Cities forum. The Forum brought together city staff, elected officials, businesses, NGOs, and researchers from around the world to participate in a solution-focused dialogue on implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency in cities. During the forum Mayor Gregor Robertson and city staff asked the audience what the city could do to help achieve the commitment to get 100% of the city’s energy from renewable sources before 2050. Mark Tizya was the first to stand up and provide a concrete step towards making this 100% commitment a reality.
“The first thing you can do is get rid of the red tape for solar and other renewable energy projects”, Mark told the panel. Vancouver’s building inspections department makes it almost impossible for Novo Solar and other solar panel installers to install photovoltaic (PV) panels on single-family homes. Reduce some of the unnecessary engineering rules, change the regulatory structure and more PV systems will be installed. The mayor agreed.
“Clearly, getting solar on our city is a key priority and we have to make sure there are not barriers,” Mayor Robertson said.
The permitting process for solar energy projects up until this time could take up to six months or more for a permit to be issued by the city of Vancouver. There were engineering requirements, which could cost up to $3,000, and other bureaucratic hurdles that could stop any solar energy project in its tracks. These extra costs and long wait times would generally kill the project because by the time a solar installer would receive the permit, it just wasn’t worth it to the client.
A number of Novo Solar Solutions competitors lost contracts because of the length of the permitting process as well as the increased cost. Novo Solar Solutions did not lose any contract because at that time a business decision had been made to not go after solar projects jobs in the city of Vancouver due to the excessive red tape.
A few months after the Renewable Cities Forum, City of Vancouver staff met with Mark Tizya and other industry representatives to discuss possible solutions to reducing that red tape and extra costs he had mentioned back in May. Coming up with ways of making the solar project permit approval process more streamlined and less costly was now a priority. This initial meeting in September 2015 was focused on the current solar project permitting process.
Three months later, in January 2016 Mark and others met with city staff once again to finalize everything that had been discussed at the first meeting. The City of Vancouver had come up with a new permitting process. With this new approval process came a set of requirements that needed to be met. Any house built after 1998 would be able to get a permit for a new solar project for a total cost of $25.
The reason these houses could be quickly approved for solar projects was that the building code has been changed in 1998 to accommodate the City of Vancouver’s Solar Homes Pilot and Green Homes Program, which at the time made the Vancouver building code for low-rise residential construction the most comprehensive green building code in North America.
There were still certain parameters that the houses had to meet even if they were built after 1998. The house had to be located in one of the designated areas of the city. An interactive online map is provided by the city of Vancouver so renewable energy installers can ensure that the house is in the right zone for this streamlined approval process. And flat roofs needed structural engineering before they can be approved. But overall, this new permitting system looked like it would make a huge difference in how quickly a homeowner could get solar panels powering their home.
In July of 2016 Novo Solar Solutions applied for a solar project permit under the new system for a client’s house that met the requirements for the streamlined process. The permit was granted within hours of being submitted.
“This was huge for our company and the client.” Mark stated. “Going from 6 months to a couple of hours to issue a permit was a game changer. As well as the reduced cost to apply for that permit. This all happened within 10 months after our initial meeting with city staff. Novo Solar Solutions would like to commend the City of Vancouver and all the staff that worked diligently to make this a reality quickly and effectively.”
With this change of reducing permitting costs and time to approval, Vancouver moves one step closer to meeting its target of powering the city with 100% renewable energy by the year 2050.
Read the Vancouver Sun Article – Effective government policies would ease shift to renewable energy, conference hears (May 2015)