Solar Photovoltaic Systems - Best Practices for Local Governments
DVRPC works with national, regional, and local partners to encourage growth of the solar energy market in the region. Benefits to growing solar energy include, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, fewer local air pollutants, more jobs added to the regional economy, and more stable energy prices. An area of focus for DVRPC's solar work is to promote the reduction of "soft costs"associated with installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Soft costs are the non-hardware costs that include permitting fees, inspection fees, customer acquisition, installation and utility interconnection. Soft costs can account for up to 64% of the total installed cost of a rooftop PV system, and represent an increasing share of overall solar installation costs. Because of the permitting process and local land use control, local governments can be instrumental in reducing the soft costs associated with installing solar. Local governments can decrease the difficulty, cost, and time required to install solar PV by adopting zoning, permitting, and inspection practices that are supportive of solar PV.
Please see below for resources that support solar PV. These resources were developed with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot program, through which DVRPC received funding under the Solar Ready II project and SolSmart.
SolSmart Program for Local Governments
SolSmart is a national designation program that provides a framework for municipalities,counties, and regions to reduce soft costs and take action to become more supportive of solar PV in their communities. Local governments and regions that achieve the appropriate actions under SolSmart become designated as "solar friendly". Please see SolSmart.org for additional resources that support the reduction of soft costs. Read DVRPC’s Solar Statement as part of our application for Regional Designation under SolSmart here [0.2 MB pdf]. DVRPC has served as a SolSmart Advisor to 17 local governments in the region. A list of those communities, the status of their designation, and the actions that they have taken, are listed below.
Regional Solar Metrics
For individuals interested in learning more about solar in the DVRPC region, below are a few useful resources:
Google Project Sunroof
This tool provides site-level estimates of rooftop solar energy potential. Users enter the address of the rooftop they wish to evaluate and the site will calculate the potential cost savings accumulated over 20 years by installing solar panels on that site’s roof.Google Project Sunroof’s Data Explorer
The Data Explorer provides county-level snapshots of rooftop solar potential.
PJM’s Generation Attribute Tracking System
PIM, our regional grid operator, maintains the GATS database that tracks data of registered energy generation systems that may participate in each states renewable energy certificate market. The GATS database can be used to access installed capacity of solar PV for counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (and wider). The system can filter by resource type and geography.
New Jersey Geographic Information Network
NJGIN provides solar installations by county in the state using data updated monthly by the NJ Board of Public Utilities.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Solar Siting Analysis
NJDEP completed a Solar Siting Analysis in 2017 that “identifies sites where the Department would encourage solar installations from those where the Department would discourage solar installations, based on their land use and characteristics; maps and tabulates the resulting data; and reports the findings.”
NJ-GeoWeb’s Energy Layers
NJDEP has mapped more detail on solar energy and shared that information through NJ-GeoWeb. Solar layers can be accessed by clicking “Launch GeoWeb”, then clicking on the layers icon in the upper right corner of the ArcGIS site, then clicking “Energy” to show the various GIS layers available for view.
Zoning for Small-scale (rooftop or ground mount) Solar PV
Permissive zoning for solar PV should be clear and transparent. It should not be overly restrictive or contradictory to the nature of solar PV energy systems. It should promote safe and sound community development. Examples of municipalities that have adopted permissive zoning are:
DVRPC's Solar Renewable Energy Ordinance Framework
Developed with DVRPC's county, municipal, and industry partners, DVRPC's Solar Renewable Energy Ordinance Framework is a resource for municipalities as they develop and update ordinances to govern the siting of small-scale renewable energy systems in their communities. This document is part of DVRPC's Renewable Energy Ordinance Framework series. This framework provides a menu-like approach to regulating solar PV at the local level. Municipalities can identify ways to regulate solar PV in their zoning codes, subdivision codes, and other regulations and ordinances in a way that specifically aligns with their local land use and community goals. This framework allows municipalities to choose the best options for regulatory language that coincides with their community's goals.DVRPC's Solar Renewable Energy Ordinance Framework [0.6 MB pdf]
- SolSmart Zoning Review Guide
- Solar Powering Your Community: Model Ordinances for Solar - Solar Outreach Partnership
- Model Zoning for the Regulation of Solar Energy Systems - Department of Energy Resources, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
- Applicant’s Guide for a Solar Energy System - San Diego County
- Promoting Solar Energy Use Through Local Development Regulations - Training from the American Planning Association
- Promoting Solar Energy Use Through Local Plans - Training from the American Planning Association
- Implementing Solar PV Projects on Historic Buildings and in Historic Districts - National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Installing Solar Panels on Historic Buildings - North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center
Solar friendly permitting is simple, transparent and efficient. This usually involves combining all permitting applications (building and electrical) into a unified application, standardizing applications across the region, and reducing permitting costs to only what is necessary to cover staff time.
Permitting checklists are a great way to simplify and clarify the process of applying for permits when installing solar. The sample checklists below can be modified to reflect your municipality’s current permit requirements:
- Sample Checklist - Unified Solar Permit [0.09 MB pdf]
- Sample Checklist - Separate Building and Electrical Permits [0.09 MB pdf]
Several municipalities throughout the region have created checklists:
- Bordentown City, NJ [0.1 MB pdf]
- Cheltenham Township, PA [0.3 MB pdf]
- Chester City, PA [0.5 MB pdf]
- Doylestown Borough, PA
- Edgmont Township, PA [0.3 MB pdf]
- Haddonfield Borough, NJ
- Kennett Square Borough, PA [0.1 MB pdf]
- Lansdowne Borough, PA [0.2 MB pdf]
- Lower Merion Township, PA [0.1 MB pdf]
- Media Borough, PA [0.2 MB pdf]
- Millbourne Borough, PA [0.3 MB pdf]
- Standard Process [0.4 MB pdf]
- Expedited Process [0.4 MB pdf]
- Pottstown Borough, PA [0.4 MB pdf]
- Upper Merion Township, PA
- West Windsor Township, NJ [0.1 MB pdf]
Streamlined solar permitting applications help lower the installed cost for solar PV for the applicant and save municipalities time and money on review and inspection processes. When a process is simplified (one application as opposed to two or three) and clearly laid out, the number of accurate permit applications increases, minimizing review time for the municipalities, and lowering the installed cost for the applicant.
- Sample Solar Permit Application [0.2 MB pdf]
- This document is a template solar permit application that combines both building and electrical permits that residents and businesses are typically required to obtain prior to installing a solar PV system. This document can be modified to reflect your municipality's specific permit requirements.
Examples from the region include:
- Edgmont Township, PA [0.4 MB pdf]
- Lansdowne Borough, PA [0.2 MB pdf]
- Philadelphia, PA
Draft Permitting Guidance [3.5 MB pdf]: DVRPC has worked with municipalities to develop a standardized and streamlined permit and inspection process for small-scale solar PV installations in Greater Philadelphia. This document is a working draft that will be updated over time.
For more information:
- SolSmart Permitting Training from June 29, 2017 in Upper Merion Township, PA:
- SolSmart Permitting Training from March 12, 2019 in Montgomery County, PA and Camden County, NJ
Other SolSmart Resources:
Solar friendly inspection processes are simple, transparent and efficient. Examples of best practices for inspection include providing a quick turnaround for inspection requests and appointments (less than 10 days), offering specific appointment times instead of windows, and providing clear guidance and training to staff or hired inspections on solar PV inspection processes.
An inspection checklist is a helpful tool to assist in‐house and hired municipal inspectors with field inspections of residential rooftop PV systems, and can be used by installers as an additional reminder of the inspection requirements that must be met for their systems. DVRPC, Montgomery County, and Camden County partnered in developing a customized Field Inspection Checklist for Rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) Systems [0.4 MB pdf] for the DVRPC region using a template provided by the U.S. DOE SunShot Program. DVRPC encourages all municipalities to use this checklist.
Training first responders to deal with solar PV installations in the event of an emergency is important to keeping both residents and first responders safe. Trainings often consist of what to expect from live panels, how to turn them off, and how best to deal with them in the case of fires within the home.
Fire Safety Training from March 2019:
- Training Slides - Montgomery County, 3/20/2019 [10 MB pdf]
- Training Slides - Camden County, 3/21/2019 [11 MB pdf]
Fire Safety Training from July 2017:
- Fire Safety Training from July 12th, 2017 at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Campus [9 MB pdf]
Other SolSmart Resources:
Solarize is a community-driven outreach campaign and support system to assist residential and commercial customers overcoming financial and logistical barriers to going solar. See two regional examples of Solarize campaigns below:
Solar Ready Construction
Solar Ready construction checklists are tools to inform developers of building orientations and designs that allow for easier installation of solar PV in the future.Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance: Solar Ready Construction Checklist [0.4 MB pdf]
Other SolSmart Resources:Rooftop Solar Ready Construction Guidelines - Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments
Solar PV systems on homes and businesses are typically connected to the electricity grid. The process of receiving approval from the utility before installing an electrical grid-connected solar PV system is known as interconnection, and it is an essential process to maintain the safety and reliability of the electric grid. The SolSmart program developed a white paper titled "Addressing Solar PV Interconnection Challenges: Lessons for Local Government and Utilities" [0.3 MB pdf] to help local governments understand the utility interconnection process for solar PV, some common challenges customers may face with interconnection, and how they can get more proactively involved in advocating for solutions to utility interconnection.
Seventeen (17) local governments in Greater Philadelphia have committed to achieving SolSmart designation. In 2017, DVRPC was selected to advise eight communities (Cohort 1) through the SolSmart Advisor program. In 2018, DVRPC began working with nine other local governments (Cohort 2) to achieve SolSmart designation. As an advisor, DVRPC was able to provide communities with free, tailored technical assistance to address their solar goals. See the results of these efforts and other examples of solar readiness accomplished by these municipalities and counties below.Click a community on the map to jump to their section in the drop-down menus below.