Sometimes what comes out of Olympia makes you smile Today Governor Jay Inslee issued aProclamation recognizing Bellevue, Edmonds, Kirkland, Seattle, and Mercer Island as Northwest Solar Communities. This is a nice recognition of their involvement in a process with other stakeholders, including solar installing companies and utilities, that had an overall goal of making it easier to permit and interconnect solar projects. At the time that this program was initiated, there was already a template for getting differing jurisdictions to agree on common standards. Mybuildingpermit.com, developed by eCityGov as a commercial product that would save local governments time and money, had already mashed building officials together in the same room until they came up with permitting standards that were universal. This softened the ground for the NW Solar Communities effort that was funded by the US DOE through our Dept. of Commerce, and facilitated by NWSEED through a series of meetings where things were hashed out. The process got streamlined in all cities but Seattle, where permitting was ridiculously easy already, and this has contributed to more installed solar, especially in jurisdictions where a full building permit process was required.
Working against this progress will be the National Electrical Code which piles on more restrictions and rules for solar in every code cycle (3 years). In 2017 we are anticipating a more restrictive ‘rapid shutdown’ requirement that will force additional changes in PV system design and manufacture. The 2020 code promises even more restrictions on rooftop voltages. Only the United States and Canada are adopting these rules; no other place on earth has. We are also seeing adoption of the International Fire Code that mandates large borders around PV arrays for access. Our own State Building Code Council adopted an amended version that is more reasonable and more flexible.
The reality of all this is that the PV industry is experiencing some growing pains as it becomes a bigger and bigger target for authorities-having-jurisdiction so, although we accept these additional burdens as signs of success we will continue to try to eliminate barriers to solar.