If you’re considering installing a solar energy system to power your home or business, you will need to understand your local permitting process. Permits from local governments are required before any photovoltaic (PV) system is installed, and inspections of the installation must be completed before the system is “plugged in” and turned on.
For PV systems that are connected to the grid, the local utility company usually has the option to inspect the system before it authorizes the connection. Sometimes zoning permits also are required. The permits ensure that the installations meet engineering and safety code standards. Permitting occurs at the local level, so local towns, cities and communities are generally in charge of the process of permit issuance.
There are several aspects to the permitting process that are easily modifiable and will speed up the solar permitting process, such as:
- Reduced fees for building permits, plan-checking or design review
- Online document submissions of simplified forms
- Collaboration among project principles (builders and utilities, for example)
- Established and predictable inspection and operating schedules.
Here’s how the following states have addressed their local and state-wide permitting processes:
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont have joined together to forge the “New England Solar Cost-Reduction Partnership.” The partnership is working to build a regional solar market by reducing the costs of non-hardware (permitting and connections) for PV systems. Each state within the partnership has its own permitting processes, as well:
Local permitting for installation of a solar PV system will require building and electrical permits, and inspections will be required to verify that the installation meets state and local code requirements. In Boston, short-form applications are available for residential units of four or fewer. Long-form applications are required for all other solar installations. Hard copies of the application and related documents must be filed in person. Historic districts may have additional requirements.
In 2011, Connecticut passed a law waiving building permitting fees for solar installations that don’t exceed five kW in capacity. State law also requires that municipalities incorporate residential solar power systems into their standard building permit process or implement a supplemental solar permitting process by Jan. 1, 2016. Municipalities are encouraged to post applications on their websites and allow emailed submissions of applications. Finally, the Connecticut “Green Bank” was authorized to present training programs across the state in 2015 that will inform and guide local officials on solar power installations and streamlining permitting processes.
New Hampshire does not have a uniform state standard for permitting of PV installations and leaves it to local municipalities to establish their jurisdictional standards. The state has developed a guide for officials, installers and others who want to install rooftop solar panels. Some communities have no “solar specific” regulations but include solar installations within their regular building and electrical codes. Fees also vary from municipality to municipality.
Vermont leads the nation in solar jobs per capita. It has an expedited permitting process for installing PV systems of 15kW or less. Electric customers must obtain a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board. For net-metered systems, the process for obtaining that Certificate is also expedited.
Rhode Island is participating in the Partnership. Its permitting process for solar installations is the same as for other building and electric installations.
Outside the Partnership
There is an expedited permitting process in participating municipalities in the state. You must follow a 13-step checklist (Part B) to determine eligibility for the faster process. Documents to be submitted include, among others, a Unified Solar Permit for Small Scale Solar Electric Systems Part B; a set of plans that include the site plan, electrical diagram, specification sheets for all components; certifications that the submitted plans were prepared by an authorized person; documentation of the system capacity in kW-DC; a Unified Solar Permit – Part C; and the permit fee.
New Jersey has the second largest number of solar installations in the country behind California, and is the fastest growing market for PV power. All solar projects must be registered with the SREC Registration Program before installation begins and to earn SREC credits. Local permitting offices may require building and/or electrical permits. New Jersey expects construction contractors to pull the appropriate permits in their jurisdiction. After the installation is complete, both the jurisdiction and the local utility must perform inspections before the system can be put online.
Missouri has not yet passed state level ordinances regarding solar permitting processes and relies on local entities to establish and enforce those rules. As an example, here’s how the city of Lee’s Summit is handling the process:
- Apply for Net Metering/Interconnection approval to electric utility;
- Submit approved application and completed PV System application to local jurisdiction;
- Obtain permit after approval;
- Install system and require inspection from jurisdiction;
- Jurisdiction will notify utility when inspection passes;
- Utility will inspect, connect meter and issue Permission to Operate.
The ease and expense of solar permitting is inconsistent across the state. Some jurisdictions make it very easy and affordable (Denver and Grand Junction, as examples), while others do not (Aurora and Erie, as examples). Advocacy will help the more challenging jurisdictions to improve their engagement of solar energy through improved permitting processes. As an example of specific permitting processes, Denver offers this alternative:
To apply, verified homeowners must complete the “Home Owners Exam” if they intend to do the work themselves, and have a Landmark Certificate of Appropriateness. Thereafter the Zoning permit and #3 Electrical Permit (for solar panels) must be obtained, fees paid and the project must be in conformance with code.
RGS Energy designs and installs solar energy systems in the states listed above, and it can help you navigate the local permitting processes. For more information or for a free quote, visit RGSEnergy.com.