2016 was a year of record growth across the solar landscape in the United States. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that as of Q2 of 2016, the United States had nearly 36 GW of total solar capacity installed, which generates enough electricity to power 6.5 million homes. A striking reduction in the cost to install solar conincided with this record growth, with prices to install dropping 62% over the last five years.
Residential solar has been the fastest growing segment in recent years, and though the overall cost to install solar is declining, the "soft costs" or non-hardware costs still remain high and present a challenege to the growth of solar markets.
Permitting processes and requirements can vary across states, municipalities, and local government organizations. As noted in Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments, the process of obtaining permits can substantially increase the time and cost of installing a solar system, often becoming a major obstacle to solar market development. Whether expediting the permitting process by shifting to online services or establishing consistent solar permitting standards, streamlined and cost-effective solar permitting processes can benefit local government organizations, community residents and businesess, and installers. Through its SolSmart program, ICMA works with cities and counties to streamline permitting processes and reduce local barriers to going solar.
The following implementation tips from Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments serve as a framework to help local government organizations streamline their communities' solar permitting processes:
- Create an easy to understand outline of the solar permitting and inspection process in your region
- Simplify permit application forms and the review process. Consider allowing for online submissions.
- Standardize permitting procedures in all communities in your region. Consider working with local utilities to provide incentives to encourage communities to adopt the permitting procedures.
- Consider allowing over-the-counter building permits for standard residential solar energy systems.
- Allow document exchanges to be conducted by company representatives. Some jurisdictions require licensed electricians pick up permits; this can place an unnecessary burden on installation firms.
- Publicize an easy-to-understand, step-by-step explanation of the permitting and inspection process.
- Establish a clear communications path between code enforcement offices and the local utility provider to expedite the interconnection and inspection processes.
- Host a workshop to educate building and electrical inspectors about solar technologies and installations.
SolSmart Minnesota Solar Permitting Workshops
The SolSmart program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory present two free workshop opportunities for communities in Minnesota to participate in an interactive discussion on solar, storage, and permitting best practices to help them improve their local solar permitting procesess. The first workshop will take place March 7, 2017 in Duluth, MN, followed by the second workshop, March, 8, 2017, in Minneapolis, MN.
Local government staff from permitting, inspection, and building departments are invited to attend these special workshops on solar, storage, and permitting best practices. Workshop participants will learn from national solar experts, make connections with their peers, and have the opportunity to receive one-on-one consultations to review SolSmart permitting criteria, specific community pathways to designation, and additional resources.
All workshop training sessions are free of charge and open to local government staff, current SolSmart participants, and prospective SolSmart communities. Registration is accepted on a first come, first serve basis; however, preference will be given to current and prospective SolSmart communities. Topics will include: 1) Solar & Permitting Best Practices and 2) Storage & Permitting Best Practices.
REGISTRATION CLOSES FEBRUARY 27, 2017.
Note: Completion of either of these two workshops helps SolSmart communities achieve criteria critical for SolSmart designation.
Is your community solar-friendly?