Local Solar Permitting
Before a solar system can be installed on a property, the system owner must meet a variety of permitting requirements. Depending on the state, local government, type and size of the system, the permitting process can require significant time and cost, with both at residential and commercial systems. Understanding the various permitting requirements for each state and municipality can be quite difficult and burdensome to deal with, particularly for small installers with limited resources.
Studies have shown that soft costs, including the costs of permitting and inspection, are representing an increasing share of the overall price of a residential solar system. A streamlined and cost-effective permitting process for installers can yield increased solar deployment, both for photovoltaic (PV) and solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems on the residential and commercial scale. A report released by SunRun shows that a standardized permitting process for residential systems could reduce costs by $1 billion over 5 years.
SEIA is working to remove this market barrier through educating industry and policymakers, easing permitting times, and creating an environment of success for model permitting on the federal, state, and local levels.
Several states have taken action to address permitting, inspection and associated soft costs. For example, California passed the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act (Assembly Bill 2188) in 2014 that required all city and county governments to adopt an ordinance that creates an expedited, streamlined permitting process for small residential rooftop solar energy systems with a capacity of less than 10 kW. Cities and counties are required to conform their permitting processes to the recommendations in the California Solar Permitting Guidebook. The bill also requires that cities and counties provide all eligible systems with a simple checklist for the permit process.
Legislation enacted in Massachusetts in 2012 required the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to develop recommendations for improved interconnection policies and processes.139 In accordance with this legislation, the DPU established three basic tracks for interconnection.140 The Simplified track, for systems with a capacity of 15 kW or less, has a maximum timeline for approval of 15 days. The Expedited track, for systems 15 kW or greater, has a maximum time frame of 40 days. All facilities that are not eligible for the Simplified or Expedited tracks are put on the Standard track, which has a maximum time frame for approval of 125 days.
In 2017, Colorado enacted SB17-179, a bill co-sponsored by SEIA and COSEIA, to extend the Fair Permit Act. The bill had bipartisan sponsors in both chambers. It extends the cap on fees for residential solar permits at $500 and the cap on commercial permits at $1,000. Local government fees are still widely variable, but the cap represents a way to bring some uniformity and fairness to the costs of solar permitting across Colorado.
- SEIA and The Solar Foundation are working with solar companies nationwide on the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) Program, which aims to modernize and standardize local permitting and reduce the cost of residential solar.
- The Vote Solar Initiative has several excellent resources on solar permitting, including an interactive map of solar permitting costs in various cities around the United States. Add information on the permitting process for your city to help build a national database.
- Solar ABCS has a model expedited permit process for PV installations smaller than 15 kW.
- Solar Tech has an ongoing, collaborative effort to reduce solar permitting time and cost.
- The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments has a section on streamlining and improving the solar permitting process.
- The Regulatory and Permiting Information Desktop (RAPID) Toolkit offers one location for agencies, developers, and industry stakeholders to collaborate on regulatory processes, permit guidance, regulations, contacts, and other relevant information.