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Best Practices for Streamlining Solar Permitting and Inspection Processes

Earlier this year, MAPC was selected to participate in SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. SolSmart is a national program that recognizes communities that have taken steps to reduce solar soft costs and increase the efficiency of solar permitting and inspection processes. The program has enabled MAPC to work alongside a regional SolSmart advisor for six months to help achieve SolSmart Designation in seven Metro Boston municipalities – Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Melrose, Natick, Somerville, and Winthrop.

MAPC hosted solar permitting trainings and held a workshop for municipal building and electrical inspectors, led by Bill Brooks, Principal of Brooks Engineering and author of Solar Board for Codes and Standard’s (Solar ABCs) resource guide for permitting and code compliance for solar. The workshop (presentation here) covered how to determine which solar systems could qualify for a streamlined review, what to look for in a solar PV inspection, and how communities can adapt the guidelines for use in zones with higher wind loads and historic buildings.

How can a municipality streamline its solar permitting process?

  1. Publish the existing permitting procedure for solar. SolSmart communities create and post solar permitting checklists to help solar developers bring the correct documentation when they apply for permits and schedule an inspection. This helps reduce the number of trips an installer makes, and saves inspectors time on plan reviews.
  2. Distinguish between systems that qualify for streamlined review. Look at the types of solar permit applications that you receive most frequently and see if you can define a type of project, such as a small residential roof-mount, that can have a quicker plan review; or a type of project that you would like to incentivize, like installations for multi-family residences. Develop a process for these priority plan reviews and include it in your permitting checklist.
  3. Consolidate required inspections for small-scale solar. Since residential roof-mounted solar installation usually does not involve structural work, many communities have decided not to have final building inspections, but instead to have one final electrical inspection and train their electrical inspectors on solar. A structural engineer’s stamp and letter can also provide a review of the state of the roof supports and plan for the rail system connections.
  4. Allow for online submissions and inspection scheduling. Consider adding solar to your online permitting portal, if you have one, or allowing submissions of permit applications over e-mail.
  5. Consider permitting data. Assess the data you are collecting for solar permitting and whether it allows you to track what you would like to. Consider including system size in DC as a separate field from ‘notes.’ Fire departments and other first responders may find it helpful, so they have a better idea of what they are walking into in an emergency, to have an updated list, taken from the solar permit data, of properties with solar installed.

Training Resources for Solar Permitting and Inspections:

For more resources on solar, including consumer protection resources, see the SolSmart Solar ISD Resource Guide.  Also check out MAPC’s Guide to Streamlining the Solar PV Permitting Process and Developing Supportive Zoning Bylaws. Communities interested in learning more about the SolSmart Program can go to www.gosparc.org.

Reach out to MAPC at cleanenergy@mapc.org if your municipality is interested in reducing solar soft costs or participating in a regional program to achieve these goals.