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Tips on Reducing Solar Permit Costs & Approval Times

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Home and business owners typically want the benefits of solar power but without the hassle of navigating solar permitting red tape. Therefore, solar energy installers usually handle the solar permitting process on their customer's behalf. Although many Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) have made considerable progress in simplifying the solar permitting process, it can burden contractors. Therefore, it's critical to reduce solar permit costs and streamline the process to ensure your residential and commercial projects are profitable.

Solar permitting issues can often delay projects, reflecting poorly on solar contractors, even if they aren't at fault. Likewise, they can make it difficult for you to schedule installations and properly manage workflow. Read on to gain valuable insights from our decade of solar permitting experience that can save time and money while providing excellent customer service.

What Is a Solar Permit?

Solar permits are official approvals granted by local AHJs that allow the installation of solar energy systems on residential or commercial properties. These permits typically include building and electrical permits, ensuring the solar installation meets all relevant codes and standards. The process involves submitting detailed plans and specifications of the proposed system for review by local building departments. In some cases, it also includes a zoning and structural review.

Importance of Residential Solar Permits

Solar permits are crucial in maintaining safety, ensuring all installations adhere to local building and electrical codes. By requiring solar panel permits, local authorities can verify that the system is designed and installed correctly, reducing the risk of electrical faults, structural failures, or fire hazards. This compliance helps protect both the property owner and the broader community.

Also, solar permits ensure that installations meet quality standards, which can enhance system performance and lifespan. Adherence to codes and standards ensures safety and boosts the reliability and efficiency of the solar energy system, contributing to the overall effectiveness of renewable energy adoption.

Overview of the Typical Residential Solar Permitting Process

The typical solar photovoltaic (PV) permitting process involves several steps:

1. Pre-Application Research: Homeowners or installers research local permitting requirements, which can vary by jurisdiction. This includes understanding necessary documents, fees, and any specific local codes that must be adhered to.

2. Solar Permit Application Submission: Detailed plans and specifications of the solar PV system are prepared and submitted to the local permitting authority. This usually includes site plans, electrical diagrams, and structural calculations.

If you need assistance preparing permit-ready solar drawings, create a GreenLancer account. We specialize in solar permitting, interconnection, and engineering services for solar contractors, and our solar permit services can help installers save time and money.

3. Solar Plan Review: The submitted documents are reviewed by building and electrical inspectors to ensure compliance with local codes and standards. If any issues are identified, this step may involve revisions and resubmissions.

4. Solar PV Permit Issued: Once the solar plan sets are approved, the PV permits are issued. The installation can then proceed in accordance with the approved plans.

5. Solar System Inspections: During and after installation, inspections are conducted to verify that the work complies with the approved plans and local codes. This may involve multiple inspections, such as a rough inspection before panels are installed and a final inspection once the system is operational. However, some AHJs only require one solar site inspection.

6. Final Solar Permit Approval: After passing inspection, the AHJ grants final approval, and the system can be officially commissioned and connected to the grid.

Factors Impacting Solar Permit Costs

The cost of obtaining permits for solar panel installations can vary widely depending on several key factors:

Solar System Location: Solar permit costs can differ significantly depending on the city, county, or state where the installation is taking place. Local governments set their own fee structures, and some areas may have higher fees due to more complex regulatory requirements or higher administrative costs. For instance, urban areas often have higher permit fees than rural locations.

PV System Size and Type: The size of the solar panel system being installed plays a crucial role in determining solar permit costs. Larger systems typically require more extensive review processes, which can increase the permit fees. Additionally, the type of system (residential vs. commercial) can influence costs, with commercial installations often incurring higher fees due to their complexity and scale.

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Ground Mount vs. Rooftop Solar: Solar permitting costs may be higher for ground-mounted PV systems because some municipalities require a zoning permit for such systems. Also, plan sets for ground-mount systems are more likely to need engineering reviews and stamps. This may also require additional paperwork to provide documentation that the proposed system complies with local zoning regulations and structural requirements.

Local Regulations and Inspection Requirements: Different municipalities have varying regulations and inspection requirements that can affect the cost. Some areas may require multiple inspections throughout the installation process, adding to the total permit cost. Furthermore, stringent local codes or additional requirements for structural engineering reports and electrical assessments can increase expenses.

Solar Permit Application Complexity: The complexity of the PV permit application process itself can influence costs. If the application requires detailed documentation, professional drawings, or specific technical specifications, the cost can be higher due to the need for specialized services to complete the application accurately, such as solar engineering stamps and reviews.

Expedited Solar Permit Processing Fees: Sometimes, you may opt for expedited processing to fast-track the solar permit approval process. This often comes with an additional fee, increasing your total solar permit costs.

Strategies to Reduce Solar Permit Costs

Although solar permitting expenses can increase your soft costs, there are several ways to minimize them while promoting solar permitting success.

Streamline the Solar Permit Application Process

Solar companies should start researching local permit requirements early in the planning stage to streamline the permit application process. Gathering all necessary documentation, such as site plans, system designs, and electrical diagrams, in advance can prevent delays. Also, leveraging online solar permitting systems where available can expedite the process and save time.

Ensure Accurate Documentation & Solar Plan Sets

Thorough planning and accurate documentation are crucial for a smooth permitting process. Ensuring all solar drawings and plan sets meet local building and safety codes can avoid costly revisions and resubmissions. Detailed and precise documentation helps pass solar inspections quickly and efficiently, reducing the likelihood of project delays and additional costs.

Use a Solar Permit Design Service

Because the permitting process can be so complex, professional solar permit design services help contractors meet solar permit requirements. However, it is critical that solar permit design services are knowledgeable about local zoning, electrical, and building requirements. The GreenLancer marketplace has a trusted network of experienced solar design and engineering specialists that includes licensed engineers in all 50 states.

Best Practices for AHJs in Reducing Solar Permitting Costs

Many municipalities want to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and have been working to enhance the solar permitting process for contractors, homeowners, and businesses. At GreenLancer, we have over a decade of solar permitting experience and have gained some insights into best practices.

1. Implementing Online Solar Permitting Systems

  • Online Permit Application Portals: Municipalities can develop online portals where applicants can submit all necessary documentation digitally. This reduces paperwork, expedites PV permit processing, and allows for easier tracking of application status.

  • Automated Reviews: Integrating automated review systems can help quickly flag common issues, ensuring that applications meet basic requirements before a human review, thus speeding up the process.

2. Standardizing Solar Permit Requirements

  • Unified Permit Guidelines: Establishing standardized guidelines for solar permits for small-scale projects can help reduce confusion and ensure consistency in applications. This can involve creating clear checklists and templates for applicants.

  • Adopting Best Practice Models: Municipalities can look to successful models like the SolarAPP+ (Solar Automated Permit Processing) developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, which standardizes and automates the permit review process for residential solar systems.

3. Reducing Permit Fees and Expediting Processes

  • Fee Waivers or Reductions: To encourage renewable energy adoption, municipalities can offer reduced solar panel permit fees or waive them entirely for PV installations, particularly for low-income residents.

  • Expedited Solar Permit Review Processes: Establishing expedited review processes for standard residential installations can significantly reduce solar permit approval times. This can be achieved by setting specific criteria that, if met, allow for faster processing.

4. Training and Resources for Staff

  • Specialized Training: Providing specialized training for solar permitting staff on PV technology and common installation practices can help reduce errors and improve the speed of the review process.

  • Dedicated Solar Permitting Teams: Creating dedicated teams focused solely on solar panel permits can ensure that these applications are processed efficiently and by knowledgeable personnel.

5. Enhancing Communication and Support

  • Clear Communication Channels: Establishing clear lines of communication between the solar permitting office and applicants helps address issues promptly. Providing detailed guides and FAQs on the municipality’s website can also assist applicants in understanding the process.

  • Solar Permitting Support Services: Offering dedicated customer support for solar permit applicants can help answer questions and resolve issues quickly, preventing delays caused by misunderstandings or incomplete applications.

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6. Collaboration and Partnerships

  • Inter-Agency Coordination: Streamlining the process by coordinating between different municipal departments (e.g., building, electrical, and zoning departments) can ensure a more cohesive review process within jurisdictions.

  • Partnerships with Industry: Collaborating with local solar industry stakeholders to understand their challenges and gather feedback on the permitting process can lead to more effective and practical improvements.

GA Solar Example of Collaboration to Promote a Standardized Solar Permit Process

An example of this is how the Georgia Solar Energy Association is promoting a streamlined model of the solar permitting process. By endorsing best practices such as posting PV permit requirements online, enabling online processing, and implementing fair flat solar permitting fees, GA Solar aims to standardize the permitting process for small-scale solar PV systems in Georgia.

A successful collaboration between Georgia solar PV experts, industry stakeholders, and local governments has led to the development of a permitting framework that not only simplifies the process for residents and developers but also promotes the adoption of solar energy across the state. The City of Atlanta's partnership with GA Solar and the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association exemplifies how these efforts are being implemented locally to create expedited solar permitting processes that boost the benefits and potential investment of solar energy for communities throughout Georgia.

Streamlining Your Solar Permit Process Cuts Costs

Reducing solar permitting costs is essential for making solar energy more accessible and cost-effective for your clients. By understanding and leveraging strategies such as streamlining the application process, thorough planning, and maintaining accurate documentation, you can minimize delays and additional expenses. Staying informed about local regulations and fostering good relationships with permitting authorities will help you navigate the complexities of the permitting process more efficiently. This not only benefits your business by speeding up project timelines but also enhances customer satisfaction as installations proceed without unnecessary hurdles.

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At GreenLancer, we are dedicated to accelerating clean energy adoption by providing solar permitting and engineering services nationwide. Our network of trusted design and engineering partners is knowledgeable about local AHJ permitting requirements and how to meet them. Complete the form below to learn more about how our services can help you scale your company.


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