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Spokane may reinstate permit fees for solar energy systems, EV chargers

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(The Center Square) – Spokane city officials are considering a return to permit fees for installation of solar energy systems and charging stations for electric vehicles.

On Monday, city council members conducted the first reading of a draft ordinance which would repeal a prior ordinance that waived such fees. A final reading of the proposal and possible adoption are scheduled for the council’s Nov. 6 meeting.

In March 2018, in an effort to support and encourage renewable energy development, the council approved a measure waiving fees for installation of solar power systems within Spokane.

But in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of permit requests for such systems. In 2019, 73 solar permits were issued by the city. By 2022, the number had grown to 605 permits and 435 have been issued thus far this year.

Additionally, ownership of electric vehicles – accompanied by installation of personal charging stations – has surged.

The increased, but uncompensated, workload has placed a fiscal burden on the city’s development services center and fire department, according to a summary document.

“Having the departments operate at a loss puts the City at risk of not being able to deliver services at the level citizens deserve,” it states.

The proposed ordinance would rescind the 2018 ordinance and incorporate new language into the city’s municipal codes. For residential solar energy systems, it calls for a $75 plan review fee and $150 inspection fee that combines both building and electrical permits.

It would also establish a new “energy storage system fee” for systems that may include batteries and require ventilation, protection from vehicle impacts, and an Underwrite Laboratories (UL) listing.

City staff said they have been working with a web-based permitting application for local governments called SolarApp+ to provide a simplified review process for residential installations. Implementation may be complete by the end of this year. When operational, contractors could apply directly to SolarApp+ for a $25 plan review that would be entered into the city’s permit system and allow proceeding to the inspection phase.

Staff also said the city would continue to track permit data to see if reinstating fees results in a reduction in applications for such projects.

The draft ordinance says Spokane remains committed to “increasing the use of renewable energy citywide to become more resilient and reduce reliance on fossil-fuel based energy.” That includes use of alternative vehicle fuels such as biodiesel, natural gas, and electricity, and assisting the Spokane Transit Authority and county and regional governments in transitioning to electric fleet and other public transit options.

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