Clog in online permitting system slows PV installations

  • A rooftop solar water heating system sits on a home on Halekii Street in Kealakekua. (LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today)

Local solar and photovoltaic contractors say there’s a clog in the permit pipeline from the county’s new EPIC online permitting system.

A permit slowdown was expected with the transition to an online permit system in late July. But, while most builders and contractors questioned in an informal survey by West Hawaii Today said permits are starting to trickle through, PV and solar water contractors have yet to see a single permit dribble out.

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The situation is so dire solar companies are considering ceasing operations and laying off employees, said Rocky Mould, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.

“County permitting needs to start functioning again,” Mould said. “The failure to process applications in a timely fashion impacts residents — looking to adopt clean energy and save money on their electric bill — and slows down economic growth during a time when we need it the most.”

The numbers seem to support contractors’ concerns.

None of the 947 permits logged as issued in the EPIC system between July 1 and Monday were for PV or solar water systems. That compares to 77 PV and 19 solar water systems in June, 56 PV and 33 solar water systems in May and 63 PV and 27 solar water systems in April, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

The county Department of Public Works ceased accepting permit applications from July 16 to July 28, the day EPIC — an acronym for Electronic Processing and Information Center — went live.

A DPW spokeswoman verified the lack of PV and solar permits and said the department, in the past two weeks, has addressed “the sheer volume of permits and technical workflow issues.”

The DPW Building Division took in 1,500 construction permit applications since the EPIC system went online, she said, and issued 561 permits.

The $2.5 million Energov program integrates data from property records, zoning, critical habitat, infrastructure like sewer, contractor licenses, building and parcel designs and much more into a single cloud-based system that will allow inspectors from multiple departments to work on a permit application simultaneously, rather than shuffling paper from one desk to another.

A message on the new website (https://hawaiicountyhi-energovpub.tylerhost.net/Apps/SelfService#/home ) advised patience.

“This website is updating daily,” the message says. “Mahalo for your patience during this transitional period of changing to the EPIC system.”

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Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, a solar installer himself, said he’s heard a number of complaints and understands contractors have been meeting with DPW to try to work out the kinks. He said he’s requested the council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit put a DPW update on its agenda to figure out what’s going on.

“We have a housing boom right now. To delay progress by not having a working permitting system, there’s something wrong,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “Contractors are frustrated and guys aren’t working.”

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