Solar Permit Design

Streamlining Solar Permitting for Efficient Solar Installations

As a solar contractor, navigating the complexities of permitting and inspection requirements is crucial. Before starting any solar project, obtaining approval from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is essential. After completing the solar panel installation, the AHJ typically requires a final inspection to obtain a permit. Interconnection approval is also necessary for customers to take advantage of net metering and connect to the utility grid, which is crucial for lowering electric bills. While necessary, solar permitting can be cumbersome, time-consuming, and costly. Let’s explore how to streamline solar permitting and interconnection requirements to keep your projects on schedule and moving forward, drawing from our 11 years of experience at One Place Solar.

Common AHJ Requirements for Solar Permits

Here are typical requirements AHJs might have for issuing solar permits:

  1. Structural Engineering Plans: Detailed layouts, racking designs, and wiring plans.
  2. Electrical Engineering Plans: Specifications for electrical components and interconnection with the utility grid.
  3. Solar Site Plan: Location details, including distances from structures and clearances.
  4. Solar Equipment Specification Sheets: Detailed specifications of panels, inverters, and other components.
  5. Building/Electrical Permits: Required for most installations.
  6. Homeowners Association (HOA) Approval: Necessary if governed by an HOA.
  7. Fire Department Approval: Ensures compliance with fire safety standards.
  8. Utility Interconnection Agreement: Proof of agreement with the utility provider.
  9. Compliance with National and Local Codes: Must follow the National Electrical Code (NEC) and local ordinances.
  10. Environmental Impact Review: Required, especially for large commercial projects.
  11. AHJ Solar Inspection: Ensures the installation meets all standards.

Common Barriers to Getting an AHJ Solar Permit

Permitting can often be delayed due to lengthy processes, gathering documentation, or navigating specific AHJ requirements. These delays can increase project costs and timelines. Understanding these barriers can help in developing strategies to mitigate them.

Different AHJ Solar Permitting Requirements

Permitting requirements can differ significantly between jurisdictions, even within the same town. For example, historical buildings may have restrictions on solar panel visibility from the street. It’s crucial to research and understand the specific requirements of each AHJ to avoid delays and ensure compliance.

Homeowners Association (HOA) Solar Permitting Requirements

HOAs regulate millions of homes in the U.S. and have their own rules that can affect solar installations. Non-compliance can lead to fines or liens on properties. It’s essential to communicate with HOAs early in the process to understand their specific requirements and ensure smooth approval.

AHJ Permits for Historical Properties

Installing solar on historical buildings requires special considerations. Local historic

preservation societies or zoning boards may be involved in the permitting process to ensure that the exterior aesthetics of the building are not negatively affected. This often means additional approvals and adherence to strict guidelines to maintain the historical integrity of the property.

Pole-Mounted Solar Projects

Pole-mounted solar panels require careful planning and engineering to account for soil composition and maximum wind loads. While residential rooftop solar systems typically face fewer restrictions, understanding local AHJ permitting requirements for pole-mounted arrays is crucial to prevent increased project costs and delays.

Utility-Scale Solar Project Permits

Utility-scale solar farms face more complex permitting processes due to their larger scale and potential impacts on the local grid infrastructure and natural resources. These projects may require extensive environmental impact studies, interconnection agreements with utility companies, and compliance with regional planning and zoning requirements.

6 Tips for AHJ Solar Permitting Success

At One Place Solar, we specialize in solar permitting with AHJs and have over a decade of experience to share.

  1. Get Organized Before Starting the AHJ Solar Permitting Process It’s critical to be organized so the permitting process goes as smoothly as possible for everyone. Many solar companies have one or two employees who handle all the permitting and are the main points of contact with the AHJ. Communicating permitting requirements to customers is also crucial, especially if they cause delays or added costs. For example, if the utility company must upgrade a transformer, this can cause a delay that is out of your hands. Without proactively communicating this, it can result in dissatisfied customers.
  2. Research What Solar Permits the AHJ Requires Knowing the permitting requirements for a given PV system is critical. Many AHJs will require an electrical permit, while others require a building permit, too. Ideally, you will have all the needed information on AHJ solar permits before bidding on a project because it can impact your costs and solar system design. Many permitting requirements are based on the National Electrical Code requirements, but AHJs may have additional ones. Ground-mounted solar panel systems may also require environmental permits, especially for larger commercial projects and solar farms. Be sure to research if there are any additional restrictions from a condominium association, HOA, or due to historical zoning or designations. If so, make sure you are clear on the requirements. In some cases, it’s helpful to communicate directly with a condominium association or HOA. This might sound time-consuming, but it can be better than having to move the solar panels after completing the installation.

Unfortunately, utility interconnection may require utility grid upgrades, especially for larger photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. Researching this during the design phase is essential to keeping projects on schedule and budget and gaining permission to operate (PTO).

  1. Build Your Solar Permit Application Compile all the required documents and forms from the AHJ to apply for different permits. It’s essential to have everything together in a presentable package to ensure the reviewer can look at everything at once. This will reduce the time for gaining approval and ensure a good relationship with the AHJ, utility company, or HOA. For some residential projects, merely listing the solar equipment, such as the panels, inverter, and mounting hardware, may be sufficient. However, solar drawings are necessary for other residential projects and larger commercial solar installations. Many AHJs allow online applications, though some permit applications have traditionally required an in-person visit.
  2. Consider Using a Solar Permit Service Many solar contractors lack the time or expertise to create solar plan sets or complete engineering reviews. One Place Solar has specialized in solar permitting since 2013, and our network includes licensed engineers in all 50 states. Using a high-quality solar permitting service can save time and staffing requirements, lowering overhead.
  3. If a Solar Permit is Rejected, Understand What’s Wrong If your solar permit or grid interconnection application is rejected, it’s essential to understand why. In some cases, it will be easy to mitigate. In others, it might be difficult to move forward with a project, or there could be long delays. For example, sometimes solar farms are delayed due to interconnection issues.
  4. Install the Solar System According to the Solar Plan Set It is critical to install the solar system according to the solar plan set to pass the AHJ solar inspection. The plans detail the structural and electrical components of the system, ensuring compliance with safety regulations and building codes. Any deviation from the plan set could lead to safety hazards, structural issues, or non-compliance with local regulations, which may result in inspection failure and project delays.

Solar Panel Permitting FAQs

Let’s explore some of the common permitting questions that solar installers and clients have.

How long does solar permitting take? The permitting process can take different lengths of time, depending on the AHJ. Some state and local governments and municipalities, such as the State of California, have made a concerted effort to create a streamlined permitting process to make it easier to go solar. Sometimes, expedited solar permits are available for residential solar systems under 15 kW.

Do off-grid systems require solar permits? The permitting requirements for off-grid solar systems vary widely by location. Often, you will not need to pull a permit for customers in rural areas, which saves time and reduces permitting fees. However, some towns and cities do require permitting for off-grid solar arrays. Because the system isn’t connected to the power grid, interconnection approval is not necessary.

What are the AHJ setback requirements for solar panels? Setback requirements for solar PV projects vary depending on the jurisdiction and property type. They are typically designed to ensure a safe distance from property lines and neighboring structures and to prevent shading issues. Consult with the AHJ to determine the specific setback requirements for your location and to follow them in your AHJ solar permit application.

Streamline Your Solar Permitting Efforts to Save Time

It’s essential to consider permitting before designing the solar project, as it may influence your designs and project timeline. Although the PV permitting process may seem daunting, there are many steps solar installers can take to streamline and simplify the process.

At One Place Solar, our solar designers and engineers specialize in AHJs across the nation. Sign up to talk to a representative about solving your toughest AHJ solar permitting challenges. By understanding and preparing for AHJ requirements, you can keep your solar projects on track and ensure a smoother, more efficient process from start to finish.

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