The Spokane City Council has reinstated permitting fees for installing solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations in the city.
The ordinance ending the waiver, sponsored by Councilmen Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart, passed unanimously Monday and takes effect in June.
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.
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, though installations fell somewhat in 2023 to 435.
The rise in solar installations has placed a growing burden on the city’s Development Services and Fire departments which process the permits and perform inspections, among other services. Those costs were not being compensated.
“A lot do need inspections because they’re installed incorrectly,” Tami Palmquist, director of the city Development Services Center, said during an April committee meeting.
The city estimated that it did not collect more than $200,000 in 2022 due to the fee waiver.
At least one group initially opposed ending the waiver, arguing that the city should be doing more, not less, to encourage the adoption of renewable energy production.
A letter circulated but not yet sent by the 14-person Steering Committee of the city’s Sustainability Action Subcommittee stated that the climate crisis is a growing threat and would worsen without a rapid transition from fossil fuel energy production.
“Economically, it makes no sense to eliminate one of the few very modest incentives the City provides for the adoption of renewable energy,” the letter states. “Short-term economic thinking is what is partly responsible for having put our species in the existential crisis we find ourselves.”
Kelly Thomas, the city staff liaison for the steering committee, did not respond to a request for comment.
Bingle said Monday he had heard about but not seen the letter, and had since spoken with Larry Luton, chair of the steering committee, and felt that he assuaged Luton’s concerns with an amendment introduced Monday.
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. Prior to the fees being waived, 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.
Permit fees vary depending on the value of the improvement being permitted.
Bingle’s amendment reduces the permit fees by 80% for solar panel installation, and he noted that the city is working to roll out use of Solar App+, an application that will greatly speed up plan review for installation for $25.
“We’re still going to see something like a 60-75% reduction in what the fee would cost,” Bingle said. “That’s still enough to pay employees for their time.”
On Monday, Luton testified publicly that he supported the amended ordinance, though he added that he was not speaking for the steering committee.
In addition to solar panel and electric vehicle charging fees, the ordinance creates 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.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 6, 2024 to correct the number of people on the steering committee of the city’s Sustainability Action Subcommittee.