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A long wait to go solar

Delays at DWP confound customers, thwart installers

February 12, 2014|By Shan Li

Los Angeles handles a larger — and ever-growing — volume of applications from homeowners compared with many other cities. Last year, it processed about 4,300 residential applications, more than double the number in 2010. Pasadena, in comparison, handled about 100 last year.

By comparison, Southern California Edison handled nearly six times the volume of DWP last year, and its solar process takes three to nine weeks, according to SCE. The biggest utility in the Southland serves about 200 cities and municipalities.

Utilities are under pressure to encourage solar after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring that California get 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Lantz has started regretting her decision to go solar.

She was looking forward to saving about $50 a month on her utility bill, but now thinks that may never happen. Lantz suffered a setback when the DWP objected to some wording in the fine print of her contract after it had already been approved. She was just one of more than 1,000 customers that had to sign an amended contract that added further delays.

"Every time they are on their way, the DWP sends another agreement they need signed because they want to change three sentences," she said. "They're like the Mafia. They do whatever they want, and you can't control them or speed them up."

The DWP blames the city's Department of Building and Safety, which never confirmed that Lantz had received a building permit for her system. The utility said the paperwork may be lost or the department may never have inspected her house.

"We're thinking it's Building and Safety," Webster said.

DWP's woes have attracted the attention of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who made overhauling the utility a central issue in his campaign. Garcetti spokeswoman Vicki Curry said the mayor was committed to improving solar in the city.

"This process simply takes too long," she said. "We're going to ensure the process to get solar power is as fast and convenient as possible for both residential and commercial projects."

That can't come soon enough for many solar installation companies.

The bureaucracy and slow processing times at L.A.'s utility has discouraged some solar firms from doing business in the city.

Torrance-based Verengo Solar, for one, doesn't spend too much time in Los Angeles. Verengo President Ken Button, along with the company's partner, Sunrun, is still fuming after the DWP demanded changes last year on hundreds of customer contracts the utility had already approved.

Dozens of their clients, like Lantz, are still stuck in paperwork limbo.

"We would love to be doing a lot of solar in L.A.," Button said. "Unfortunately it's not a prime focus for us. The economics are not great because the process is harder and more expensive."

Kady Cooper, a spokeswoman with Vivint Solar, points out that Southland cities like Thousand Oaks are attractive to solar installers.

Many homeowners in this well-to-do city 40 miles west of L.A. say they are bombarded with mail, phone calls and knocks on the door from solar firms. City officials say the solar permit process takes four to six days, and then Southern California Edison takes over to hook panels up to the grid.

So Vivint has blanketed the city with salesmen in corporate T-shirts who try to charm homeowners into going green.

And, unlike Los Angeles residents, the homeowners there are overwhelmed with a little too much love from the solar industry.

Dan Laubscher, a California Highway Patrol officer, is fed up with constant solar come-ons. He's now resorted to greeting unknown phone numbers with "Domino's Pizza, will that be takeout or delivery?"

"They get confused and hang up," he said with satisfaction. But "we still get six to 12 calls a day."

Twitter: @ByShanLi

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