January 20, 2016 11:23 pm
Updated: January 21, 2016 1:23 am

City of Vancouver looks to cut red tape for green energy

WATCH: Bureaucratic red tape could be getting in the way of Vancouver's goal to be the world's greenest city. Nadia Stewart explains.

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The City of Vancouver plans to change the the way permits are handled for homeowners looking to install solar panels on their homes.

In the past, the process was lengthy and expensive. In 2014, the cost of installing a solar energy system in Vancouver was six times that of an equivalent system in Toronto or Calgary.

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“When we started 10 years ago, it was really simple. You needed an electrical permit and that was it and then a couple years ago, they decided you needed building permits as well, which lengthened the process and made it more expensive, made it complicated,” said Rob Baxter, one of the co-founders of Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-Op.

Baxter said there has been an explosion of interest in solar technology. Last year, his company installed more solar energy systems than they installed in the previous 10 years combined.

For years, he’d been asking the city to make the process less prohibitive.

It seems now, they’re finally listening.

In response to Baxter and others, the city said Wednesday changes are being made to its solar panel policy, making it clearer what the permit fee should be based on: the cost of the installation, not the cost of the panels. Staff are also trying to cut out unnecessary steps like the need for an engineer to sign off on every installation.

“So that, in many of the situations, will help streamline this because you won’t need to have an engineer involved,” said Sean Pander, the City of Vancouver’s Green Buildings Program Manager.

“With the weight of the solar panels, many of the safety concerns in most cases can be addressed without involving an engineer,” said Pander, adding that, over time, the panels have become lighter.

The new streamlined process should be in place within the next two months and will bring Vancouver more in line with other jurisdictions.

Advocates say this latest change is a significant step in the right direction. They’re now focused on lobbying the provincial and federal government to offer homeowners more incentives to go green.

“Even a grant like they give for the electric cars of $5,000 towards the install of the system, or something like that would be nice,” said Mark Tizya of Novo Solar Systems. “Maybe GST incentives. Anything would help.”

Tizya, who is also a member of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, said homeowners are already looking at solar power because of the continued rise in electricity rates. He said it wouldn’t take much from the government to sweeten the deal.

“If they also have cash incentives, things like that — even just for a few years to prime the pump, to get more people motivated to do this. Once you start seeing your neighbours with solar on their roofs, you’re more inclined to get it done as well.”

The city is asking homeowners to weigh in what the new policy should be by way of this solar panel survey that be viewed here.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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