In 2009, the Massachusetts Board of State Examiners of Electricians (BSEE) took an unprecendented step and required that all solar PV installation work performed in Massachusetts could only be performed by licensed electricians.
Recently this ruling was overturned, which allows the solar PV industry to return to how it was operating before 2009. The court decision refers to non-electrical tasks but does not detail which PV tasks are strictly electrical and which are not. Electrical permits will still be required for the hard wiring portion of the work, just like they always have been.
MA Solar Laws is a great site that has all the issues, ruling, precedent set out in a very specific, technical and long language.
Here's the history of what happened in 2009 (you can read the entire history here):
PV systems have been safely installed on public and private buildings in Massachusetts for over three decades using this multidisciplinary approach. However on January 30, 2009, the Board of State Examiners of Electricians (BSEE) issued a ruling banning anyone but licensed electricians from performing any aspect of PV installation work. This board did not reach out to the solar industry before making this ruling. After a brief stay instituted on March 25, 2009, despite the systematic opposition to this ruling by the solar industry, citing common sense and precedent , the ruling was reinstated by a vote of the BSEE on April 27, 2009. On May 1, 2009, a letter was sent by the BSEE to all of the wiring inspectors in the Commonwealth advising them that no PV installations should be approved that have been installed by anyone other than a licensed Journeyman Electrician or a properly supervised apprentice.
A key thing to understand in this ruling is what was included in the term "banning anyone but licensed electricians from performing any aspect of PV installation work." A key to the ruling is the word "any aspect." Because there are numerous parts of a solar PV installation that have nothing to do with electrical work, including installing racking, moving modules, connecting module home runs, installing and configuring the monitoring devices, and advertising the sale of PV projects.
It's also worth noting the precedent of this ruling — no jurisdiction in the world, even Germany, which has more then 50 times the solar PV installed capacity then the US, operates in this way.
The Ruling that Overturned the 2009 Decision
A summary judgement prior to a case going to trial is very rare. Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School did a great job to win on these very narrow grounds. An excerpt of their summary of the decision is: "Judge Leibensperger accepted our argument that G.L. c. 141, sec 1A carves out an exception (and does not require an electrician's license) for general contractors who advertise and contract for PV installations and engage licensed electricians to do the physical “wiring.” In other words, you have the legal right to advertise and contract for PV projects and subcontract with electricians. The Judge rejected the Board’s position that its jurisdiction depends on whether the “overall project” is “electrical in nature.”
The implications of the ruling are clear: "Once notification of this decision is sent out to building and wire inspectors in the state we'll see an end to the turf arguments on which licensees can pull the permits and which can be working on a PV project. Both a building and an electrical permit are required; workers from multiple trades are needed. Keep in mind often solar firms perform PV and solar thermal services for the same project and thus a plumbing permit and a licensed plumber will be added to the mix."
Why the solar PV industry felt it was important to overturn this decision:
"This board (the BSEE) made an unfortunate decision in 2009 favoring electricians without really understanding the consequences to all construction trades or the history of solar installations in the state. This judgment by the Superior Court restores the pre-2009 status quo of trade cooperation and helps pave the way for a Massachusetts Solar Contracting license"
"The solar industry owes the Harvard Clinic a huge debt of gratitude for their hard work; in fact the Commonwealth of Massachusetts owes the clinic and the Superior Court thanks for a judgment on existing laws and regulations that clearly promotes harmony in the multiple construction trades a solar installation involves."
The impact of the ruling in Massachusetts:
"Now a pure play solar PV firm properly registered and licensed as a General Contractor in Massachusetts does not have to worry about prosecution from the BSEE so long as they subcontract the electrical work on the job to an electrician."
What does this mean for business involved in solar PV in Massachusetts?
Thank you again to MA Solar Laws and all the individuals who created and supported this website.
Chris Williams is a former geothermal, solar PV, and solar thermal designer and installer and is now the Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring Learning Institute. HeatSpring runs a Boston solar training for new solar contractors and a solar project management seminar for companies looking to expand into larger projects.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.