What is solar permitting and how long does it take? | SaveOnEnergy.com

What is solar permitting and how long does it take?

home with solar panels on the roof

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What is solar permitting?

Solar permitting is the last step before installing solar panels on your home. Residential and commercial solar installations must be consistent with U.S. construction permitting and inspection requirements. 

Before an installer begins the work, you must get the necessary permits from your local government and utility. These entities must ensure that your solar panels meet building and electrical codes before being set up and switched on. You will not be able to install or operate solar panels without completing the permitting process. Bear in mind that this step can be the most time-consuming part of the solar installation process. If any paperwork is incomplete or inaccurate, installation could be delayed.

Where do I get solar permits?

You need to get permits from two entities before installing solar panels.

  • The city planning agency in your local government must review and approve all necessary electrical, building, and solar permits. 
  • Electric utility servicing your area must evaluate and approve all applications to interconnect solar systems to the power grid.

The permits require detailed documents on your solar system’s planned location, zoning, roof design and condition, electrical wiring plans, and solar components as part of the application.

How much do solar permits cost?

An average residential solar permitting fee in major U.S. cities costs at least $300. The exact permitting fee amounts vary from location to location. You may not even see these costs separately since solar installers usually include solar equipment, labor costs, permitting, interconnection, and inspection costs in their quote for the entire installation process. If you want to know the exact permitting fees, you can ask your installer for them or check with your local city planning agency.

Permitting fees amounts depend on the state, local government, and the size of your solar system. Known as soft costs, solar permitting, interconnection, and inspection have historically been high due to inefficiencies and bureaucracy. There are efforts to make them more cost-effective and standardized to increase solar adoption. For example, California enacted the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act in 2014, which mandates that all local governments pass simplified and streamlined permitting rules for solar systems smaller than 10 kilowatts (kW). Similarly, Massachusetts passed a law in 2012 that mandates a permitting timeframe of 15 days for systems with less than 15-kW capacity. A typical residential solar system in the U.S. is 5 kW.

How long does it take to receive solar permits?

After submitting all the completed documentation to your utility company and city planning agency, it can take two to six weeks to approve them. It is critically important to provide complete and accurate information to receive both permits. A mistake or an omission in the paperwork can result in rejection or redoing the entire documentation, further delaying the approval process. 

Similarly, any modifications to your solar design after applying for permits will necessitate a new application to ensure that they will be compatible with the system. You may also need to pay the permitting fees again when re-submitting corrected paperwork. Because solar permitting is the most time-consuming part of the installation process, it is wise to start it as early as possible and work with an experienced solar installer.

What are the steps to get a solar permit?

The solar permitting process has three general steps.

1. Complete an application for an interconnection agreement with your local utility company. The utility will review documents about your property, electricity use, solar system details, and your solar goals before allowing you to connect to the electricity grid.

An interconnection application typically asks for information on:

  • Location of your electrical meter and panel, a planned system location, solar component spec sheets, and a solar wiring diagram, among other documents.
  • The proposed number of solar panels and inverter(s)
  • The planned capacity of your solar system and inverter(s).

A professional engineer needs to certify and seal all three pieces of information before you submit your paperwork. It is common for solar installers to work with engineers who can complete this certification.  

2. Filing for a building permit with your city planning agency is another requirement during this stage. Your city planning agency needs to verify that your solar project follows structural, electrical, and fire safety requirements. This agency will need to ensure your rooftop can hold the extra weight of the solar system. As part of this process, you will determine whether your roof may need a repair or replacement to meet your local government’s standards for solar installation.
Bear in mind that permit requirements differ for rooftop and ground-mounted solar installations. For example, you may not need a building permit but will need a land use and zoning permit for a ground-mounted solar array. A building permit is necessary to install solar panels on your rooftop.

3. Your city planning agency and the utility company will review your application and communicate any issues with the document so you can correct and re-file them. Once you get your permits, solar contractors can install your solar system. 

After you receive the solar permits and complete the installation, you have to take two more steps before you can turn on your solar system.

1. You need to contact your city planning agency and utility to conduct a post-installation inspection of the solar system. Representatives of both entities need to ensure the quality and safety of your solar system and its compliance with electrical wiring and building codes and fire safety requirements.

2. After the inspection is completed, your solar installer applies for “Permission to Operate” with your local utility company. As soon as it receives permission, you can start generating solar energy from your panels.

Importance of hiring a professional solar installer

It is essential to hire a professional and licensed installer to put solar panels on your property. If you do not have professional training to install solar panels, you may do it incorrectly and damage the equipment. It is important to remember that many solar manufacturers can void a solar equipment warranty if licensed professionals do not install the panels. 

After you choose a solar installer, they will work with you to figure out what kind of system you need and help you design it. A solar advisor will ask you about your daily energy consumption, climate, and shading in your area to determine the number and type of panels your home will need. After ascertaining the type and size of the system you will need, the installer will give you an itemized quote. This quote will typically outline the next steps of the solar process, including permitting. Once you agree to the price and the system design, the installer will apply for the solar permit on your behalf.

While you can submit the required applications yourself, many solar stallers help their customers file for permits since they are more familiar with the process. Well-informed installers can facilitate a more efficient permitting process. However, installers do not control the review and approval process or its outcome.