The Spokane City Council is considering reinstating permitting fees for installing solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations as the city looks for various ways to increase revenue amid a budget crunch.
Mayor Nadine Woodward has pointed to reinstating the fees that were waived in 2018 as a small part of a larger push to offset an estimated $20 million shortfall in the city budget going into 2024.
“We’re looking at the (General Facilities Charges) for development and housing, some areas that we have not updated, permits or fee schedules, parking – those are all things on the table right now that we’re looking at,” she said in August.
The ordinance, sponsored by Councilmen Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart, is scheduled for a vote on Nov. 6.
Permitting fees for installing solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations were suspended in early 2018 to encourage the buildout of renewable energy systems throughout the city. At the time, the fee waiver was written so it would continue until a majority of all energy “sourced in Washington state” was produced by renewable sources. Notably, however, hydroelectric power generation alone has constituted over half of the state’s energy production since before the local ordinance was passed, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Still, the fee waiver has been accompanied with an explosion in new solar installations in the city, increasing from 73 in 2019 to 605 in 2022.
The increase in solar installations has placed a growing burden on the city’s Development Services and Fire departments, however, which process the permits and perform inspections, among other services.
“A lot do need inspections because they’re installed incorrectly,” said Tami Palmquist, director of the city Development Services Center, during an April committee meeting.
Palmquist noted that in just the week preceding her presentation to the City Council requesting an end to the fee waiver, 50 permits had been submitted for solar installations or related battery systems.
The actual plan review, inspection and electrical service fees depend on the structure where the solar panels or electric vehicle charging systems are being installed. Solar panels installed on single family residences, duplexes and accessory structures, for instance, would have a $75 plan review fee and a $150 fire department inspection fee.
In addition, the ordinance would create a new $50 fee for installing energy storage systems, the batteries used for storing and discharging the energy produced by solar panels, such as at night. These systems have become increasingly popular along with solar panels, Palmquist said in April.