Joseph Lecce, Lecce Engineering
As solar system installations have developed, the Local Building Departments, State Fire Codes, and also the National Electric Code (NEC) have increased their code requirements. With strict compliance, comes added costs and work scope in order to satisfy all installation requirements, which ultimately affects the payback period. This drives the need for the solar investor to perform “smart” due diligence prior to engaging in such projects.
Minimum code and building department requirements needed for obtaining the proper local and state approvals for solar installations include the following:
• A building and electrical permit for grid-tied solar electric system prepared by a licensed PE/RA, and Plans showing solar system equipment, panel array, electrical and inverter location, and system tilt angle.
• Compliance with all National Electric Codes, including NEC Sections 690 and 705.
• State and local fire codes require pathways/egress to equipment, clearances to scuttles and skylights, OSHA railings or parapets, clearances from egress doors/fire escapes, roof to have no more than a single layer of roof covering, the solar panel mounted parallel to the roof or panel to be tilted with 18 inch gap max between the module and roof, and solar panels affixed to building wall shall not obstruct fire apparatus ladder access.
• Structural Design is required to assure attachment points to roof or other.
• Architectural/historical review board may be required.
• Zoning variance or special use permit may be required.
• Licensed and registered solar installation contractor required.
Other items to consider include the electric utility rate being charged to customer. Higher rates paid, better payback periods. Areas such as NYC and Westchester tend to offer better paybacks due to higher electrical rates.
Installation costs can vary up to 10-25% more, based on type, difficulty, or unique material of roof, and this may increase the payback period.
As for space, typically 100 s/f per kW of solar capacity is required. The average solar system is about 3 kW. Ground space can be utilized, however, supports with footings are required and may increase overall costs and payback periods.
Property value assessments are typically done when significant home improvements are performed, including solar systems. Additional property taxes may result, so clear understanding on whether installing a solar power system will trigger a tax re-assessment, and whether the value of a solar power system is exempt from property taxes.
Solar systems can offer valuable options for property owners, however, “Smart” due diligence is required when assessing work scope, budgets and payback periods, to assure investment will ultimately be of value to the property.
Joseph Lecce, P.E., P.C., is president at Lecce Engineering, White Plains, N.Y.