Going solar just got easier


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Electrical contractors can expect to get some relief after the Hawaii County Council approved a change to its electrical code Wednesday.

Bill 305, adopted in a 7-0 vote, removes the requirement that an architect or structural engineer sign off on photovoltaic systems installed on homes.

The requirement, made during previous code revisions in July 2011, was seen as onerous by contractors eager for work during a sluggish economy.

But the bill keeps in place a requirement that solar projects receive a building permit, also a source of frustration for some contractors.

Rod Hinokawa of Hinokawa Electric saw the bill as a step in the right direction.

“It helps a little but we are still dealing with the building permits and that process,” he said.

Contractors said the building permit requirement, also introduced last year, has led to long delays.

“Once we had the building permit entered into it, it took longer for the permit to process,” said Phil Harris of P.A. Harris Electrical Contractors.

It also added cost, from the “mid-$100s up to $400 to $500,” he said.

But the county Public Works Department has helped expedite the permitting process, Harris noted, adding that it now takes a couple weeks to get a permit rather than a month or more.

That help has come from being able to apply for permits online and a permit tracking program, he said.

“I think as they continue to improve their process that it will come down to where it was,” Harris said.

Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto introduced the bill after hearing complaints from contractors.

He said the building permit requirement was left in because he didn’t hear concerns about that in particular.

The complaints, Yoshimoto said, were directed at the requirement for a review by an architect or structural engineer.

He said the bill will still help contractors and homeowners seeking to add solar power.

But Brandon Gonzalez, Public Works deputy director, cautioned the bill may lead to longer wait times for permits since he believes it will add work for his staff.

“They (architects and structural engineers) packaged it to make it easier for us to have to make a review …,” he said.

“It’s going to take longer for us to review.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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