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6 Tips For AHJ Solar Permitting Success

Updated: Jun 8

solar permitting

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. Let’s examine how to streamline permitting and interconnection requirements to keep projects on schedule and moving forward based on our 11 years of solar permitting experience.

Common AHJ Requirements for Solar Permits

Here are some requirements that many AHJs have for issuing solar permits:

  1. Structural Engineering Plans: The AHJ may require a structural engineering solar plan set for the solar energy system, including solar panel layout, racking design, and electrical wiring.

  2. Electrical Engineering Plans: AHJs may require electrical engineering plans that detail the electrical components of the solar energy system, including interconnection with the local utility, wiring diagrams, and equipment specifications.

  3. Solar Site Plan: A site plan that shows the location of the solar panels, the distance from other structures, setbacks, clearance from soffits and ridges, and other relevant information.

  4. Solar Equipment Specification Sheets - Most AHJs require detailed technical specifications of the solar panels, inverters, racking systems, and other components, ensuring compliance with local codes and standards for the solar permit application.

  5. Building Permit and/or Electrical Permits: A building and/or electrical permits are commonly required to install solar panels, and some AHJs require both.

  6. Homeowners Association (HOA) Approval: If a homeowners association governs the property, the AHJ may request a copy of the approval for the solar energy system from the association.

  7. Fire Department Approval: The local fire department sometimes needs to approve the design of the solar energy system to ensure compliance with fire safety standards, but this is not a requirement from many AHJs for solar permits.

  8. Zoning Review: This may include considerations such as setbacks, screening of solar equipment from public view, building height requirements, and other aesthetic or design-related stipulations for a solar energy system.

  9. Utility Interconnection Agreement: The AHJ may require proof of a signed interconnection agreement between the customer and the utility provider as part of the solar permitting process.

  10. Compliance with National and Local Electrical Codes: AHJ may have specific codes or ordinances that need to be followed, including the National Electrical Code (NEC) and specific local codes.

  11. Environmental Impact Review: A review of the environmental impact of solar panel installations may be required by the AHJ, especially for large commercial projects.

  12. AHJ Solar Inspection: A solar inspection is a systematic evaluation conducted to verify the proper installation, safety, and compliance of a solar energy system with relevant codes and standards.

Common Barriers To Getting An AHJ Solar Permit

The renewable energy permitting process can have 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.

Different AHJ Solar Permitting Requirements

Requirements can often 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.

Homeowners Association (HOA) Solar Permitting Requirements

Know if the solar installation is on a property governed by a condominium association or homeowners association. 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. Not complying with their restrictions and processes can result in a fine for your customers or even a lien on their property.

AHJ Permits for Historical Properties

If you intend to install a solar energy system on a historical building, special considerations may apply regarding solar panel visibility from the street. Local historic preservation societies or zoning boards may be involved in the solar panel permitting process to ensure that the exterior aesthetics of the building are not negatively affected.

Pole-Mounted Solar Projects

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 AHJ permitting requirements for pole-mounted arrays, it can boost project costs and delay the project timeline, so keep this in mind when bidding on the job.

Utility-scale Solar Project Permits

Utility-scale solar farms often face more complex permitting processes due to their larger scale and potential impacts on the local grid infrastructure and natural resources. These projects may require extensive environmental impact studies, interconnection agreements with utility companies, and compliance with regional planning and zoning requirements

solar permitting drawings

6 Tips for AHJ Solar Permitting Success

At GreenLancer, we specialize in solar permitting with AHJs and have over a decade of experience to share.

1 - Get Organized Before Starting The AHJ 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 with the AHJ.

Likewise, communicating permitting requirements to customers is critical, especially if they cause 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.

2 - Research AHJ Solar Permitting Requires

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 AHJ solar permits before bidding on a project because it can impact your costs and solar system 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).

3 - Build Your Solar Permit Application

Compile all the required documents and forms from the AHJ 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 reduce the time for gaining solar permit 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. However, solar drawings are necessary for other residential projects and larger commercial solar installations.

Many AHJs allow online applications, though some permit applications have traditionally required an in-person visit.

4 - Consider Using a Solar Permit Service

Many solar contractors lack the time or expertise to create solar plan sets or complete engineering reviews. GreenLancer has specialized in solar permitting since 2013, and our network includes licensed engineers in all 50 states. Using a high-quality solar permitting service can save time and staffing requirements, lowering overhead.

5 - If Solar Permit Is Rejected, Understand What’s Wrong

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.

6 - Install The Solar System According to the Solar Plan Set

It is critical to install the solar system according to the solar plan set to pass the AHJ solar inspection because the plans detail the structural and electrical components of the system, ensuring compliance with safety regulations and building codes. Any deviation from the plan set could lead to safety hazards, structural issues, or non-compliance with local regulations, which may result in inspection failure and project delays.

ahj solar inspection

FAQs on AHJ Solar Permitting

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 solar permits?

The permitting requirements for off-grid solar systems vary 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 solar 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 unnecessary.

What is the AJH solar meaning?

An AHJ, or Authority Having Jurisdiction, is the local government entity responsible for enforcing building codes and regulations for solar installations. This includes reviewing plans, issuing permits, conducting inspections, and ensuring compliance with safety standards. AHJs can be municipal building departments, fire departments, or electrical inspectors, depending on the jurisdiction.

What are the AHJ setback requirements for solar panels?

Setback requirements for solar PV projects vary depending on the jurisdiction and property type. They are typically designed to ensure a safe distance from property lines and neighboring structures and to prevent shading issues. Consult with the AHJ to determine the specific setback requirements for your location and to follow them in your AHJ solar permit application.

Streamline Your Solar Permitting Efforts To Save Time

It’s essential to consider permitting before designing the solar project, as it may influence your designs and project timeline. Although the PV permitting process may seem daunting, there are many steps solar installers can take to streamline and simplify the process.

Luckily, GreenLancer has solar designers and engineers with specialties in AHJs nationwide. Sign up to talk to a rep about solving your toughest AHJ solar permitting challenges.


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