A standardized process helps cities and counties reduce the effort and cost associated with solar permitting, while maintaining checks and balances to ensure system safety.
Permitting Best Practices
The following practices were developed by Northwest Solar Communities in consultation with building code officials, solar installers, and industry advocates. Take the Permitting Best Practices Questionnaire to see how your jurisdiction can save time and money, while promoting solar business.
Adopt a Permit Checklist for Solar Installations
Jurisdictions should provide a checklist of permit requirements to ensure that applications are complete.
- The Oregon Building Codes Division created a Checklist for Prescriptive PV Installations. Jurisdictions may use this as a template for their own checklist.
- The City of Bellevue created a checklist to determine whether small residential systems ever need a building permit.
- The City of Portland offers a solar Program Guide that explains requirements for commercial and residential installations.
- The Washington Permit Checklist for Building Permits and Washington Permit Checklist for Electrical Permits provide excellent templates for local jurisdictions.
Establish Reasonable Building Permit Fees
Jurisdictions’ building permit fees should not exceed the amount necessary to cover the costs of administering and enforcing the permit process. Set a flat fee for prescriptive (standard) installations. Consider calculating the permit fee for non-prescriptive installations based on valuation of the structural components and labor only, excluding the value of the solar modules and inverters that are not part of the structural review.
- The City of Hillsboro exempts renewable energy devices from city permit fees. Since renewable energy permits are a small part of overall permitting, the impact to funding for the Building Department is minimal.
- Clackamas County charges a $190 flat fee for prescriptive project permits, based on two hours of time. Non-prescriptive solar permit fees are based on the total value of the project excluding solar panel and inverter costs.
Provide Solar Permit Information Online
Information on fees, requirements, and the permit process should be easily accessible on your jurisdiction website. A solar-specific web page may include:
- solar permit application checklist
- solar permit fee information
- contact information for solar-related permitting questions
- state, federal, and or/utility incentive information
- links to helpful educational websites
- The City of Edmonds, Washington provides solar permit information online.
- The City of Portland has a solar specific web page and will be unveiling a permitting web page geared to contractors.
Train Permit Staff in Solar Installations
Training building department staff and inspectors on the specific concerns for solar installations helps to reduce the time and cost of issuing permits and ensures consistent project review. In addition, cross-training of building and electrical inspectors allows the inspection of solar installations to be completed in a single visit rather than two separate visits.
- The City of Eugene Building Permit Services is cross-training inspectors to complete both the building and electrical portions of a solar inspection in a single visit.
- In Oregon, the Building Codes Division is the sole provider of continuing education to maintain inspector certifications. To view a list of scheduled trainings or request a training, go to: bcd.oregon.gov
- In Washington, WSU Extension Energy Program provides training for building officials, including training on the solar portion adopted in 2014.
Implement Online or E-permitting System
An online permitting system can significantly reduce time for installers and staff who would otherwise need to schedule in-person appointments. A fully online system would enable all aspects of the permit process — application submittal, plan review, fee payment and delivery of approved permits via email or a website will be processed within a short period of time.
- The City of Bellevue is one of 17 jurisdictions in Washington that uses the intergovernmental platform, MyBuildingPermit.com.
- The City of Edmonds developed their own in-house solution for online permitting.
- The Oregon Building Codes Division offers an e-permitting system, including solar, that Oregon jurisdictions can subscribe to.
- The City of Eugene Building Permit Services tested a simple electronic review process for prescriptive installations, before implementing a full plan-review and issuing permits on their website. Installers submitted their permit applications and plans via email. The plans were reviewed electronically, fees are collected over the phone, and the approved plans were emailed back to the customer the same day. This simple process saves time. The City of Eugene has launched full e-permitting.
Additional Permitting Resources
Solar Permitting Packet for Oregon
The Solar Permit Packet for Oregon was developed by the Northwest Solar Communities participating jurisdictions over a series of work group sessions and consultation with building code officials, solar installers and industry advocates. Included in this printable PDF are the five permitting best practices. Updated April 2015.
Solar Permitting Packet for Washington
The Solar Permit Packet for Washington was developed by the Northwest Solar Communities participating jurisdictions over a series of work group sessions and consultation with building code officials, solar installers and industry advocates. Included in this printable PDF is information on the recent Washington solar code changes, permitting best practices and over-the-counter building permit checklist for residential rooftop photovoltaic systems. Updated July 2014.
Online Permitting Options for Local Governments
Local governments are increasingly turning to online permitting solutions to save time, improve customer service, and track data more efficiently. An online permitting system can significantly reduce time and expense for contractors and citizens who would otherwise need to schedule in-person appointments. Local governments can also reduce the time required to review, track, and approve permits. An online system can improve recordkeeping and archiving processes, provide automated notifications for enhanced customer service, reduce the risk of human error, and improve staff efficiency and coordination across departments. Developed and released by Northwest Solar Communities in April 2015, this resource goes through common features of online permitting software, cost and common processes to determine which e-permitting software to choose, software vendor options, and list common online permitting solutions currently uses by local governments across Oregon and Washington.
Template One-Line Diagram and Site Plan for 4 String (fillable format) and Template One-Line Diagram and Site Plan for 6 String
Northwest Solar Communities developed template one line diagrams in cooperation with utilities, so that the same diagram meets the needs of electrical permitting authorities, utility interconnection managers, and state employees issuing incentives.
Model Inspection Checklist for Rooftop PV Systems
Released in September of 2013, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) developed a model Inspection Checklist for Rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) Systems for use by municipalities across the United States.
Webinar | Expedited Permitting for Solar PV
This webinar covered a new, streamlined process that a team of four cities has developed to make the permitting process for standard rooftop solar simple, fast, and cost effective for both reviewing jurisdictions and permit applicants. Delivered June 4, 2013.
Webinar | Standardizing and Simplifying Permitting for Rooftop Solar Systems: Can We Do Better Together?
This webinar covered the approaches the team is currently working on to streamline and standardize the permitting process for rooftop PV systems. Delivered October 30, 2012.
Report | Streamlined Permitting for Solar PV
This report describes how four Washington cities are taking steps to lower the cost of solar in their communities. The report covers best practices and recommendations on how other jurisdictions can streamline their solar permitting process and attract solar business. Published October 9, 2012.
Report | Expedited Permit Process for PV Systems
The Solar American Board for Codes and Standards permit process takes advantage of the many common characteristics inherent in most smallâ€scale PV systems to streamline the application and award of permits. Published July 2012.
Report | The Impact of City-level Permitting Processes on Residential PV Installation Prices & Development Times
This report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory uses an empirical analysis of solar systems in California cities to quantify the costs imposed by city-level permitting processes on both the time and expense of the PV development process. Published in April 2013.
Report | Benchmarking Soft Costs for U.S. PV Systems Using a Bottom-Up Approach & Installer Survey
This report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory presents non-hardware balance-of-system costs for residential and commercial PV systems in the U.S. Published October 2013.