Perhaps the most obvious step that local governments can take in support of solar energy is to remove barriers in their building or zoning codes, for example, by exempting solar systems from building height limitations or building permit and design review requirements.
Many policy and planning recommendations are intended to reduce the time, paperwork and unnecessary inconvenience associated with building and electrical permit applications for solar installations. This includes creating simplified permit application processes and working with surrounding cities and towns to develop standardized application procedures that support the increased use of PV systems across entire regions.
Electrical permitting requirements should be based on a common set of standards – Underwriters Laboratory (UL) 1741 and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 1547 – which ensure the safety and reliability of solar systems if they are installed according to the National Electric Code. This would streamline the electrical permitting process for grid-tied solar systems by allowing the process to focus only on ensuring that the system has been installed properly and is ready for grid interconnection. Local governments could further reduce permitting delays by providing their building and electrical inspectors with the necessary training to understand and properly evaluate solar systems.
The high cost of solar panels continues to be an obstacle to their widespread use, and permit fees simply increase that cost. Flat permit fees are encouraged, as opposed to “valuation-based” fees that are based on project value and thus discourage investment in larger systems. Also, the approach taken by some municipalities to encourage solar panels and other distributed renewable energy systems by exempting them from permit fees and/or providing rebates or other types of financial incentives is encouraged.
Find detailed recommendations for local solutions for solar energy in GRACE’s report: Taking the Red Tape out of Green Power, and be sure to check out Solar Permitting Process Checklists and Best Practices: Two New Helpful Resources for Local Governments from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and Vote Solar.