Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


Rooftop solar is ready to have its moment in Minnesota. Across the state, demand for rooftop solar is rising as households, businesses, schools and farms realize the significant cost savings they could achieve by adding solar to their roofs. And thanks to state and federal incentives — including tens of billions of dollars available from the Inflation Reduction Act — it's more affordable than ever to make the switch to solar.

And soon, thanks to Minnesota lawmakers, installing rooftop solar in our state will get a whole lot quicker and easier.

Up to now, momentum behind rooftop solar has been stalled by local government red tape. Households and businesses have often had to endure a needlessly slow permitting process. For every application, a local government might have to manually work through 100 compliance checks and get approval from structural, electrical, fire, planning and zoning departments. The resulting wait times and complications have led people to think twice about installing solar — a wariness we can't afford if we're to reach Minnesota's ambitious goal of being 100% carbon-free by 2040.

That's why we applaud state lawmakers for passing legislation this year that includes a $2 million incentive for local governments across the state to adopt the automated permitting tool SolarAPP+. Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, SolarAPP+ is a web-based portal that automates permitting without compromising on safety and other important permitting checks. It works by asking the solar contractor a series of questions to verify that the system's design is up to code. Eligible, cookie-cutter rooftop solar applications get approved permits to build instantly, while ineligible projects flow through the typical permitting review. SolarAPP+ can issue same-day permits — a feat almost unheard of today.

Hundreds of cities across the country are already using SolarAPP+ to fast-track solar applications, quickly and smoothly delivering energy independence and lower bills to their residents. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that in the areas where it's being used, SolarAPP+ saved around 9,000 hours of local government staff time in 2022 and sped up the permitting process by an average of 13 days.

This new approach will help achieve our state's energy goals and cement Minnesota's place as a clean energy leader. SolarAPP+ is a win for everyone — it takes the burden off local governments and gives them a helpful tool to better handle the influx of solar permits, creates consistency across counties and gives installers and solar customers a faster, more predictable permitting process.

Given all the benefits that come from rooftop solar, we need to make it as easy and hassle-free as possible. Want to bring down energy bills and save the planet? Turns out, there's an app for that.

Logan O'Grady is executive director of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA). Johanna Neumann is senior director of Environment America.