Tips For Solar Permitting Success
Updated: May 20, 2022
Like it or not, solar contractors must meet permitting and inspection requirements. Before installing a solar project, it is critical to get permission from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
After completing the solar panel installation, the AHJ usually requires a final inspection to obtain a permit. Also, interconnection approval is necessary for your customers to take advantage of net metering and connect to the utility grid, which is essential for lower electric bills.
Unfortunately, solar permitting can be a cumbersome, time-consuming, costly step. If not adequately managed, permitting issues can delay projects, create solar installation bottlenecks, and result in dissatisfied customers. Failure to obtain permits can lead to fines and even being forced to remove the system.
However, solar permitting can be a simple, straightforward process if you implement an effective strategy. Let’s examine how to streamline permitting and interconnection requirements to keep projects on schedule and moving forward.
Common Barriers To Getting A Solar Permit
The renewable energy permitting process can be full of pitfalls with AHJs or utility companies that can increase your soft costs. Occasionally, permitting can take a long time, delaying projects. Sometimes, gathering all the required documentation or understanding particular AHJ requirements is difficult.
Often, requirements can vary between nearby towns or even properties in the same town. For example, if you are installing a solar energy system on a historical building, there may be restrictions regarding the solar panels being visible from the street.
In addition, know if the solar installation is on a property governed by a condominium association or homeowners association (HOA). In the United States, HOAs regulate 40 million homes, and they create covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that impact how residents can alter or renovate their properties. Failure to comply with their restrictions and process can result in a fine for your customers or even a lien on their property.
In addition, installing pole-mounted solar panels may require having an engineer specify the foundation details, taking into account soil composition and maximum wind loads. Thankfully, residential rooftop solar systems rarely have such restrictions. However, if a solar energy contractor isn’t aware of local permitting requirements for pole-mounted arrays, it can boost project costs and delay the project timeline.
Get Organized Before You Start The Solar Permitting Process
It’s critical to be organized, so the permitting process goes as smoothly as possible for everyone. Many solar companies have one or two employees who handle all the permitting and are the main point people.
Likewise, communicating permitting requirements to customers is also critical, especially if it causes delays or added costs. For example, if the utility company must upgrade a transformer, this can cause a delay that is out of your hands. Without proactively communicating this, it can result in dissatisfied customers.
Research What Solar Permits You Need
Knowing the permitting requirements for a given PV system is critical. Many AHJs will require an electrical permit, while others require a building permit, too. Ideally, you will have all the needed information on solar permits before bidding on a project because it can impact your costs and solar design.
Many permitting requirements are based on the National Electrical Code requirements, but AHJs may have additional ones. Ground-mounted solar panel systems may also require environmental permits, especially for larger commercial projects and solar farms. Be sure to research if there are any additional restrictions from a condominium association, HOA, or due to historical zoning or designations.
If so, make sure you are clear on the requirements. In some cases, it’s helpful to communicate directly with a condominium association or HOA. This might sound time-consuming, but it can be better than having to move the solar panels after completing the installation.
Unfortunately, utility interconnection may require utility grid upgrades, especially for larger photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. Researching this during the design phase is essential to keeping projects on schedule and budget and gaining permission to operate (PTO).
Build Your Application
Compile all the required documents and forms to apply for different permits. It’s essential to have everything together in a presentable package to ensure the reviewer can look at everything at once. This will cut down on time for gaining approval and ensure a good relationship with the AHJ, utility company or HOA.
For some residential projects, merely listing the solar equipment, such as the panels, inverter, and mounting hardware, may be sufficient. For other residential projects and larger commercial solar installations, drawings are necessary.
Many AHJs allow online applications, though some permit applications have traditionally required an in-person visit. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged a shift toward online permit applications.
If Your Application Is Rejected, Understand What’s Wrong And How To Fix It
If your solar permit or grid interconnection application is rejected, it’s essential to understand why. In some cases, it will be easy to mitigate. In others, it might be difficult to move forward with a project or there could be long delays. For example, sometimes solar farms are delayed due to interconnection issues.
Solar Panel Permitting FAQs
Let’s explore some of the common permitting questions that solar installers and clients have.
How long does solar permitting take?
The permitting process can take different lengths of time depending on the AHJ. Some state and local governments and municipalities, such as the State of California, have made a concerted effort to create a streamlined permitting process to make it easier to go solar. Sometimes, expedited solar permits are available for residential solar systems under 15 kW.
Do off-grid systems require permits?
The permitting requirements for off-grid solar systems varies widely by location. Often, you will not need to pull a permit for customers in rural areas. And this is good news because it will save you time and permitting fees.
However, some towns and cities do require permitting for off-grid solar arrays. The good (and time saving) news is that because the system isn’t connected to the power grid, interconnection approval is not necessary.
Solar Permitting Can Be Streamlined With A Little Preparation
Although the PV permitting process may seem daunting, there are many steps solar installers can take to streamline and simplify the process. It’s essential to consider permitting before designing the solar project, as it may influence your designs and project timeline.
Luckily, GreenLancer has designers and engineers with specialties in AHJs across the nation. Sign up here to talk to a rep about solving for your toughest AHJ.