Before a rooftop solar power system can be installed on a property, the owner must complete all the necessary permitting requirements. Depending on the state, local government, type and size of the system, the permitting process requires significant time and cost, both on the residential and commercial scale. Understanding the various permitting requirements for each state and municipality can be quite difficult and burdensome to deal with, particularly for small installers with limited resources.

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The permitting process (which includes the fee and turnaround time) varies based on the following factors:

  • Location of the solar plant
  • Sector type (residential/commercial/NGO)
  • Size of the project

Permitting processes for solar PV systems are essential to ensure public safety and system performance. Depending on the jurisdiction, installation of a solar PV system may require an electrical permit, a building permit, zoning approval, or some combination of these. The permit fee and turnaround time vary vastly for residential and commercial rooftop installations.

Electrical permit

  • The electrical permits for rooftop projects can be obtained by filling out forms at the electricity board (either online or in person) and paying the required permit fee. Either the homeowner or an electrical contractor can apply for the permit. The process is completed with an inspection by the state electrical inspector assigned to that region of the state.
  • For commercial rooftop installations, Electrical permit fees are valuation-based and should be calculated based on the cost of the electrical work (i.e., the connection to the electric grid), not the total project cost.

Building permit

  • Rooftop solar PV project owners contact the state building inspector who covers their region of the state. The inspector will come to the site, review the plans, and issue the building permit onsite. The building permit fee is calculated based on the entire cost of the project, including the cost of the solar PV equipment.
  • However, a building permit is required for residential solar PV systems under certain conditions, e.g., only if roof modification is required, or for roof-mounted systems but not ground/pole-mounted systems. In some regions, a building permit for residential solar PV systems isn’t required under any conditions.
  • Commercial PV systems are more likely than residential PV systems to require both electrical and building permits

Zoning permits

  • In most of the regions, an electrical permit and, in some cases, a building permit, are the only permits required to install a solar PV system. However, a few cities have additional zoning permits that apply to solar PV projects.
  • For example, any exterior change to a building which includes the historical area and main corridors requires review by the Planning Department for a Certificate of Appropriateness.

Conclusion

Installers pointed out that in many jurisdictions, building and electrical permitting requirements for solar PV projects are not clear. Clear, explicit permitting policies for solar PV systems would make the permitting process more efficient. Therefore, careful examinations must be done before applying for the appropriate permits required for your rooftop installation.

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