OK, the permitting process for solar projects in the U.S. is not very easy. That’s just one of the reasons why it’s usually a good idea to work with an accredited installer to wrangle the permitting process—above and beyond safety and the assurance that a system is properly installed. But across the U.S. there are literally thousands of authority having jurisdictions (AHJs), each with its own permitting and regulatory process for solar installations, that have created more than 18,000 different permitting processes across the country.
To help add some clarity into the process, Clean Power Finance got a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to launch SolarPermit.org, which hosts information about the permitting process in localities across the nation. It also allows people across the U.S., both installers and homeowners, to add information about the local permitting and inspections processes. The initiative was launched in September 2012, but was recently revamped with more data and features to make it easier for site visitors to use and understand.
The permitting process is a nightmare for installers and project developers to keep up within each district, but even more so for a home or business owner that wants to go solar. And sometimes the differences in permitting between neighbors can mean the Smiths get their photovoltaic array permitted, inspected and approved for $50 within two weeks of submitting the paperwork, while the next door Jones' have to pay $2,000 for their PV array and wait two months or more to get their system permitted, inspected and approved.
Some states like Oregon, Colorado and Vermont have taken significant steps to reduce the burden of the permitting process. For instance, Colorado’s Solar Friendly Communities Initiative and laws that have made permitting solar easier, while other states have left it up to local jurisdictions.
This has resulted in a willy-nilly network of permitting processes that, according a survey of 273 residential solar installers by Clean Power Finance on behalf of the SolarPermit.org project, found that more than a third of installers avoid selling in an average of 3.5 jurisdictions because of associated permitting difficulties. The survey looked at data related to more than 500 installations across the 12 states that make up more than 90 percent of the residential solar market. “Permitting processes vary widely among locales and usually involve two distinct agencies (and up to five agencies), each with different processes,” the survey determined.
The survey also found that although it takes a solar installer about to day to complete his or her work related to permitting a residential solar installation, it takes most AHJs more than eight weeks to complete their work. It’s a process that can be greatly simplified. In Denver, a Solar Friendly Community, a solar permit can be issued within 15 minutes of applying for it. That leads to a lot of cost-savings for installers, homeowners and the city — since the permitting office’s process is simplified.
After the refresh, the SolarPermit.org initiative said it’s gaining significant information from the user community. “We have some key data for 80 percent of the most popular jurisdictions (those with 200 or more residential solar installations a year).” The information that’s been added for AHJs includes contact information, turnaround times, fees, specifications for system designs and inspection processes (like whether or not your AHJ requires fire, electric, and/or building inspections for a PV array). The additional information also includes what common, if any, errors are regularly made in an AHJ’s permitting process.
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