The permit and inspection process can be lengthy and difficult, often leading to costly expenses before a project can get under way, especially if design and engineering work is included. Local governments must issue a permit before any PV system is installed, and inspect it before connection to the grid. Additionally, zoning permits as well as engineering and safety code permits are required; all of that adding up to a lot of potential hassle and expense.
Many states have made moves towards easing the permit process however, such as California which recently announced the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, a program that should ease the permitting process and reduce expenditures of solar projects.
Beginning with the aforementioned initiative, SCF has analyzed some of the most progressive states and the steps they’ve taken to ease the permit and inspection process for solar developers:
With the goal of making the permit process more routine, straightforward and efficient, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation revealed the brand new initiative, SolarAPP.
The plan will attempt to enact reforms such as:
- Creation of a system design standard for solar projects that qualify;
- Listing established equipment standards for solar projects that go through the initiative process;
- A program to enact skills and safety training/certification for solar installers in order to ensure that their projects comply with codes and laws, removing the need for the traditional permit process;
- Establishing an administrator to guide implementation of the plan, overseeing state and local jurisdictions and utilities as SolarAPP is put into place.
- An online platform for local governments to sign up and vet proposed systems, lowering the cost of approvals.
The implementation and hopefully the success of this program should help to spur other states to enact their own reforms of these processes.
New England Partnership
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island have forged an alliance, the “New England Solar Cost-Reduction Partnership.”. Together they work to grow the regions solar market through cost reductions for permitting and connections. Additional permitting processes still exist for the states under the partnership.
While historical districts may have extra paperwork required, solar PV projects for residential units of 4 or fewer require only a short-form application in Boston, while long-form are required for all others. Building and electrical permits and inspections are also required in order to verify state and local code.
While no single standard for solar installations currently exists, the state did develop a guide for rooftop solar panel installers.
Building permit fees were waived in 2011, after a law passed applying to installations below 5 kW of capacity. Municipalities are also required to include residential solar systems in their building permit process. Training programs were also authorized state-wide to inform officials on the permitting process for solar installations.
With an expedited permit process for smaller PV systems (15kW or less) as well as net-metered systems Vermont is making strong progress towards being a leader in ease of solar permitting.
Rhode Island has stated their objectives to be refining, combining and deploying innovative tools and practices from Connecticut and Massachusetts Rooftop Solar Challenge I (RSC I) projects, and from other earlier efforts in those states and Vermont.
States Outside the Partnership
With an expedited permit process in many municipalities and a 13-step checklist to determine eligibility for the quicker process, New York is making steps to improve permitting for solar PV installations.
New solar projects in New Jersey have to be registered with the SREC Registration Program before the project starts in order to be eligible to earn credits, while local permit offices often require building/electrical permits. Local utility and jurisdiction must also complete inspections before the PV system can be connected to the grid.
While state ordinances have not yet passed for permitting processes, local entities have their own sets of rules. The state is quickly moving in a solar-positive direction however, and will most likely see legislation to improve the state-wide permitting process in the next few years.
While inconsistent across jurisdictions, some parts of Colorado make the permit process very easy, although some jurisdictions make it quite a bit more difficult.
How SCF Can Help Your Solar Project
Sustainable Capital Finance is a commercial & industrial (C&I) solar financier, providing PPA solutions to EPCs and Developers for projects as small as 100kW.