How To Get A Solar Permit
Before moving to the installation phase of a solar energy project, installers have to obtain the necessary permission from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Because permit requirements and building codes may vary by location, solar contractors need to get familiar with the process in their area. Some towns have local ordinances in addition to codes, so the exact requirements vary.
Unfortunately, permitting can be costly and time-intensive in some towns for both residential and commercial solar power projects. Other cities and states have made a concerted effort to streamline and standardize the process, which is helpful. Regardless, it is beneficial to take an organized and systematic approach to permitting, thus reducing soft costs.
What Is Solar Permitting And Why Is It Necessary?
Installing a solar energy system requires electrical and construction work. To ensure that this is done safely and following local codes, it is crucial to get a solar permit.
Although this process can be bureaucratic, it’s vital for maintaining your reputation as a solar installer with both customers and the local government. Permitting can take days or weeks, and then projects need to be inspected. Overlooking this step can lead to compliance issues, such as fines or even being forced to remove the solar PV installation.
The Permit Process Varies By Local Jurisdiction
Requirements vary by town and state. Many require electrical permits, while some require a building permit. Some towns have a dedicated solar photovoltaic permit. Sometimes, the permitting cost will depend on the total cost of the solar energy system.
If you install new solar systems in numerous towns, it’s helpful to take notes on the contact person and what each town requires. Some towns allow online applications, while some require the paperwork to be submitted by mail or in person. To streamline the process, some local governments offer an expedited process for PV projects that meet some basic requirements.
Some cities and towns will also require an inspection, possibly before and after installing the solar PV system. In the inspection process, the official looks for code violations, and checks that the system matches the site plans. Thus, it is crucial to be aware of the codes to adhere to them. Typically, officials must complete the final inspection and utility company interconnection approval before commissioning the PV system.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted some towns to embrace digital technologies more in the permitting process to promote social distancing and prevent bottlenecks in the permitting process.
Historical Buildings, HOAs And Condominium Associations
In some towns with historical buildings, there might be additional requirements to preserve the historical feel of the city. For example, it might not be possible to install solar panels that are visible from the street, but it might be acceptable to install PV modules that are only visible from the back of the home.
Likewise, many homeowners or condominium associations have their own sets of guidelines. Some homeowner associations (HOAs) like to maintain a uniform appearance throughout the neighborhood and might have policies that impact solar projects. However, some states, including California, Florida, and Utah, have solar access laws that prevent HOAs from denying solar access to neighbors.
In condominiums, typically, the roof and exterior of the building are considered a shared common element. Thus, approval is likely required by the condominium association, even in a duplex or townhome.
Who Is Involved In Solar Permit Application?
The application process varies, often by the size of the town or city where you are installing the solar system. Obtaining a solar permit may require working with the fire department, the building department, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), and other AHJs.
For some residential projects, merely listing the solar panels, inverter, racking system, and cost might be sufficient. In other areas, a more extensive site plan and solar project drawings might be necessary.
Some towns will require PE stamps by a licensed professional engineer on the solar drawings to show they are compliant with electrical and structural codes. These are especially common for larger commercial projects and may require outsourcing an engineer’s services if a solar company doesn’t have those qualifications in-house.
How Much Are Solar Permitting Fees?
Like the local permitting process, the fee structure varies widely. In some areas, the permit cost is based on the total system cost. Some states have taken steps to limit permitting costs to make the process more uniform in various cities and towns.
In Colorado, the Fair Permit Act sets a cap on permitting fees to $500 for residential solar projects and $1,000 for commercial solar panel installations. In California, the state limits the total cost of a solar permit to $450 for residential projects of 15 kW or less. For larger projects, the state limits permitting fees at $450 + $15 per kW over 15. For commercial projects, the limit is $1,000 for 50 kW or less. For projects between 50 and 250 kW, fees are up to $1,000 + $7 per kW above 50. For larger systems, the permit fee limit is $2,400 + $5 per kW over 250 kW.
Solar Permits For Commercial And Utility Solar Projects
Often, permitting requirements are more involved for commercial projects, especially if they are large projects. Commercial solar permits might have more extensive requirements, such as providing one-line diagrams. Some large ground mount systems may require a land use review.
In some cases, state or federal agencies are involved in the permitting process. For example, if you are installing a solar system on a capped landfill, you likely need to obtain permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the integrity of the landfill cap is maintained.
What Happens If A Solar Permit Gets Denied?
If a solar permit is not approved, it might not be possible to realize the project. First, examine why the town denied the permit and if there is a simple way to overcome the issue. If it is a siting issue, is it possible to modify the project to meet code requirements?
If an HOA is preventing the project, examine if solar access laws in your state protect your customer. If the concerns are related to historic buildings, having the solar panels and conduit obscured from the front of the house might help, or perhaps installers can use building integrated photovoltaic products.
Some towns are blocking commercial solar farms due to zoning restrictions for property owners. In some areas, there is concern around developing farmland. In this case, it might be possible to overcome these concerns by grazing sheep on the property (also helping with mowing) or planting native wildflowers as a ground cover to create pollinator habitat.
Ensure Success Of Your Next Solar Project
Being proactive in the permitting process is the best way to ensure a smoother installation process. Learn about design and siting requirements before designing the solar project to save time and hassle. If you install solar arrays in numerous towns with different restrictions and processes, keep a list to make things simpler in the future. Stay current on new regulations and take permitting time into account to keep projects on schedule.
Many solar companies support having a standardized process for instant online solar permitting while ensuring safety and code compliance. Such an approach would use existing national standards to streamline the process. Renewable energy advocates are urging policy changes to streamline solar and wind energy permitting.
Some towns have created automated systems with instant permitting using a standardized platform. Such actions could help relieve overburdened permitting departments by streamlining the process while lowering costs for solar installers.
GreenLancer’s marketplace has a network of vetted, licensed solar designers and engineers who specialize in AHJs all across the US. Obtain permit-ready drawings, professional engineering wet stamps, solar project consultation, and more. Connect with a rep today.