Solar panels are being installed on roofs across Nixa, so the city council is looking into how it approves the permits for those panels.
Nixa Director of Planning and Development Travis Cossey said that 25 different property owners obtained permits for solar panel installation on their homes in 2018.
“We had large uptick in solar panel installations in 2018, a very big increase,” Cossey said. “A lot of that increase in popularity has to do with the technology and the decrease in price associated with the improved technology for home based solar systems.”
Cossey asked the Nixa City Council to enact an ordinance that will create a standalone process for solar panel permitting.
“Up until this point, they have fallen under our ‘miscellaneous permit guidelines,’ because we do not have a permit specifically for solar panel installation,” Cossey said. “This is for anything that falls outside of our established categories for building permits.”
Greene County is the closest political subdivision to Nixa with a permit process specifically for solar panels. Cossey recounted how in 2018, homeowners paid fees under the “miscellaneous permit guidelines” structure that ranged from $66 to $178. Cossey wants to establish a flat fee of $40 for solar panel additions on both residential and commercial structures.
“What concerned me is not only the number of solar panels but the wide array of permit prices associated with the installation of these systems,” Cossey said.
In addition tot the lower $40 fee, the Nixa Department of Planning and Development built a great deal of simplicity into its proposed city council bill.
“I want to streamline the process for customers to make it easier for them to obtain a permit for solar panels. I want to have a process in place that they can follow very easily,” Cossey said. “Providing a set fee, we can actually lower the fees to a point that we actually show an encouragement for individuals to place solar panels on their house.”
Encouraging solar panel installation, Cossey said, is something he believes the city of Nixa should be doing for its property owners.
“It is a good energy source. I think we should want to encourage customers to install the systems on their houses,” Cossey said.
On March 11, Cossey walked the Nixa City Council through a document that staff members of the Nixa Department of Planning and Development drafted on solar panels, which includes a sample permit application.
“We also establish some guidelines that are very user friendly for a non-building individual. In other words, we tried to make it in plain language,” Cossey said.
The document also includes some technical information for solar power panel installers.
District I Councilman Jimmy Ledbetter Jr. asked if the proposed $40 fee would be sufficient enough to cover the cost of time that a Department of Planning and Development staff member would put into reviewing a solar panel application and making multiple visits to the site of the installation.
“I don’t want to discourage anybody, but I want to make sure that we’re not losing money on the deal,” Ledbetter said.
Cossey said the $40 fee would not always cover the cost of the permit process, especially when it comes to inspecting the solar panels to make sure the installer adhered to guidelines and the specifications of the permit.
“Most of the systems, it would cost more to administer the actual review of the permit, the documents that we have to sign and execute with the homeowners, and of course the inspection of the installation,” Cossey said.
District I Councilman Scott Perryman asked about applying fees on a sliding scale rather than a flat rate.
“If you’re proposing to go with a $40 set fee, then we still have a question on the form, I see, as to the value of improvement, and that’s no longer tied to a sliding scale with the fee, and so why are we asking that question again?” Perryman asked.
“We ask that question on every permit fee because we calculate the value of improvement that was added to the community every year,” Cossey said.
That grand total represents millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements taking place across Nixa on an annual basis. Twenty-five solar panel additions is a relatively small set of numbers, but Cossey said they are worth adding and tracking.
Nixa also offers a net metering program so that solar panel owners can track their utility bill savings and to ensure that they are being properly billed for the power that they do consume from Nixa Utilities.
“We can provide a net meter in conjunction with the solar panel installation that allows for a customer to have a reduction and credit toward their utility bill as a result of solar generation,” Cossey said.
The Nixa City Council will consider a bill to create a permit structure specifically for solar panels at its meeting March 25, at 7 p.m. at City Hall.