Solar Builder

SEP-OCT 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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"A lot of communities don't express what their needs are for a permitting package and because of that, a developer might not know what to submit," Greene says. "When that happens there is a constant back and forth between permitting office and installer about forms needed and spec sheets needed or what diagrams they require. That can add a lot of time to the process, espe- cially depending on the responsiveness of local government." This is why a baseline requirement for the Bronze SolSmart designation is an online checklist of requirements for the permitting process. Something that basic is a huge first step for reducing the back and forth and general uncertainty hold- ing back business. For large-scale proj- ects, zoning ordinances usually need to be reviewed in terms of decommissioning and the role the county needs to play. Check out the boxes surrounding this article for some SolSmart designee suc- cess stories. For solar installers inching that boul- der up the hill, Weiner recommends keeping good notes. "It's really trial and error," he says. "In other words, the best way to find out how horribly an AHJ or utility will treat you is to submit an appli- cation and just go through the process in a brute-force type of manner. Then, the second step is to keep notes of everything that goes wrong or sideways. Then the next time you encounter that jurisdiction, you'll be prepared with the experience you gained the last time you visited that office." Of course, making calls to chief elec- trical inspectors and plan checkers to get clarity before submitting applications is great, but the right person is often hard to track down. "Another solution is to collaborate with other installers," Weiner says. "If it's the first time you've gone to this AHJ, see if you can find another contractor or buddy who has gone through the process and get the skinny on the situation from him or her, so you don't have to get surprised throughout the process." Interconnection inconsistencies A slick permitting process is only half the battle because interconnection is often more arduous. In EQ's 2016 Interconnection report, the researchers found utilities took longer to approve interconnection applications and gain permission to operate (PTO) in 2015 compared to 2014, although the delay increases were much more significant for PTO than for pre-construction applica- tions. For preconstruction waiting peri- ods, the median utility wait time increased from 14 in 2014 to 18 days in 2015; for PTO waiting periods, the median utility wait time increased from 28 in 2014 to 45 days in 2015. "This is pretty astounding when in some territories, the entire interconnec- tion approval process can take place in less than a week," Barnes says. Barnes is correct that the range in waiting periods is wildly inconsistent. In 2015, the average PTO waiting period ranged from one day for ComEd (Ill.) to 154 days for Western Massachusetts Electric Co. (WMECO). These delays were caused by all sorts of things. Installers in North Carolina reported bi- directional meter replacement taking up to a month in Duke Energy territory. Installers in California's Imperial Irrigation District service territory reported two months for the same thing after already waiting for PTO, which could take up to three months. Installers in Washington, D.C., and Maryland had big complaints of checks getting separated from applications and then lost in Pepco territory (which the utility has since worked to correct). Maybe increases in processing times are attributed in part to rising volumes of applications and therefore unavoid- able? Not necessarily. Ardani notes the examples of San Diego Gas and Electric and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in California. These two utilities imple- mented measures to streamline the interconnection process, resulting in decreased processing times despite rising volume of PV interconnection applica- tions. Specifically, in 2012, PG&E's SolSmart cities seeing the most success are often clustered and collaborative. In Illinois, the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC) advised 15 municipalities and counties and successfully led them all to Gold, Silver or Bronze SolSmart designations. As of the spring of 2018, this represented the largest regional cohort of designees in the country, tying Illinois with Colorado for the largest total number of SolSmart designations (18 total statewide). Key to this process were bi-weekly phone calls with all communities and a Dropbox system arranged to share resources. This way everyone could get on the same page and share best practices while still tailoring programs to address local nuances. The reps from Schaumburg, Ill., rewrote zoning codes to create clear solar guidelines based on communication during the SolSmart designation phase that also met community goals and aesthetic standards. Beach Park and Schaumburg achieved SolSmart Gold and Silver designations by making online solar permitting checklists available, allowing solar by-right in their zoning codes, training permitting and inspection staff on solar, and creating a streamlined process to approve solar permits more quickly. Schaumburg and Beach Park also received points for informing its residents of local incentives, solar installers and financing options. COLLABORATION NATION

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