The legal and regulatory framework in Philadelphia provides a foundation for building a sustainable solar
infrastructure. Local rules and regulations help reduce installation costs and significantly improve the market
environment for solar energy technologies.
Now that you’ve determined whether solar is right for you, this section describes the solar installation process and discusses the applicable codes and regulations that require implementation for a successful installation. Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Commonwealth, has reviewed its rules and regulations to streamline and improve the process for residential and small commercial installations. This section also describes when a streamlined process may be allowed for electrical and building permits, and outlines the steps contractors must follow for a ―Streamlined Permit‖ and a "Standard Permit."
Solar Installation Process Overview
Figure 4.1 presents a process diagram that identifies the six key steps for the implementation of a solar project. (Note that these are steps that will occur after a property has been thoroughly assessed by a qualified solar contractor and has been identified as a feasible site for a solar PV system. For additional details, see Sections 2 and 3 of this guidebook.) Each step is briefly described below:
(Note: The contractor should submit to PECO the Interconnection Application/Agreement - Part 2 in addition to L&I’s Third Party Electrical Inspection Certificate of Approval. PECO may opt to conduct an inspection, which would include a witness test to assure that the inverter will disconnect form the grid if there is a grid outage. However, PECO may waive this test and approve the system. If the submitted Part 2 – Interconnection form is not challenged by PECO after 10 business days, the witness test is automatically waived and the system is approved for operation.)
Finally, PECO will replace the existing utility meter (IN meter) and install the utility meter (OUT meter). The Contractor should perform the final system commissioning steps and train the property owner on operating and maintaining the system. (See Section 4.3 PECO Coordination for details.)
The following sections explain the permitting and approval process that all solar installations must follow with the City of Philadelphia’s Licensing and Inspection (L&I) Department.Licensing and Codes Requirements
[Note: Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Electrical Codes are incorporated within the UCCCP and are based on the NEC, with some differing or additional requirements particular for Philadelphia. While there is a specific section (Article 690) of the NEC that is dedicated to PV systems, the majority of the remainder of the NEC is also applicable to PV systems.]
The Commonwealth (through the PA DEP Solar Sunshine Program) develops and maintains the Approved List of Solar Contractors for projects that pursue rebates through the program. (Even if a project does not pursue a rebate, it is highly recommended to use a contractor from this List because it provides some level of assurance to a property owner that the contractor has met certain eligibility requirements and has had proper training and/or certification.).
The Solar Contractor applies for building permits. As part of the building permit application, the City requires the solar contractor to provide evidence that they are on the Approved List and registered with the Attorney General’s Office. (Note: Pennsylvania law requires that all Contractors who perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvements per year are registered with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.)
The project electrician must be a licensed City of Philadelphia electrician and is responsible for obtaining the electrical permit.
In addition to applying for City permits, the Solar Contractor must also submit an application to PECO for connection approval and meter installations. If pursuing a rebate, the Solar Contractor must also submit an application to the PA DEP Solar Sunshine Program.PECO Interconnection
It is important that Solar Contractors understand PECO’s interconnection requirements BEFORE the design is finalized. This understanding is essential to ensure that the electric lines serving the home or building can accommodate a customer-sited generating unit. An application must be submitted to PECO before they can identify any potential site limitations for interconnection. Contractors are encouraged to review PECO’s Yellow Book for small generators rated at 50 kW or less [the Yellow Book is a condensed version of the requirements contained in the procedures for 2 million volt amps(MVA) or less].
Even if the system is never anticipated to export power to the grid, PECO must be aware of and understand potential faults in the system that may impact their lines and determine if their lines have enough capacity to accommodate the net flow of energy from a PV system. Failing to coordinate with PECO before the design is finalized may result in additional work or additional costs (if equipment has already been purchased).
There are scenarios seen in an interconnection review that, per The Pennsylvania Code may limit a lot’s ability to have a small generator facility (such as a solar PV system) or that may require upgrades to the electric lines serving the building at the customer’s expense. Some of these scenarios are presented in Table 4.1. (Note: The Pennsylvania Code is an official publication of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that contains regulations and other documents filed with the Legislative Reference Bureau including Pennsylvania Interconnection Standards. There are 4 levels of interconnection review per the PA Code. For more information about Levels 1 through 4, see 052 The Pennsylvania Code § 75.34 through § 75.40.15)4.3.1 General PECO Requirements16
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) evaluates the need for zoning and grants zoning, electrical and building permitting for PV systems.
Electrical and building permits are required in all installations. For projects that are less than 10 kW and meet certain criteria, a streamlined combination permit for solar PV Installations is an option (See Exhibit C-3, the Streamlined Standards for 1&2 Family Dwellings Solar PV Installations Bulletin). This streamlined combination permit can be granted with a single visit to the electrical permits counter if all application materials are present and correct. Larger projects and projects that do not meet the requirements for streamlined combination permit will have to move through the standard process for both building and electrical permits. The need for zoning permits will be decided upon review (see Section 184.108.40.206 Zoning Requirements for more details) but rooftop solar installations will not require a Zoning permit. Fire Department safety requirements that enable safe emergency response need to be incorporated into the design. The requirements for each permit are discussed separately in this guidebook.
To facilitate the preparation of the various L&I permit applications, this guidebook contains checklists, process flow diagrams and worksheets summarizing the requirements for electrical, building and zoning permits (see Appendices C, D and E, respectively).
Appendix C contains the following information to assist the electrical permit process:
L&I receives applications for building permits for PV installations. Within the review for building permits, zoning and fire requirements are evaluated. The following three subsections discuss these three requirements.
Building Permits are required for PV installations. Permitting for the building portion of the installation is regulated by the Philadelphia Building Construction and Occupancy Code (BCOC).
If a project meets the criteria listed in Exhibit C-3, then only a visit to the electrical permit counter is needed. A Streamlined Permit can be granted within 1 to 3 business days. If the project does not meet all of the criteria listed on the bulletin in Exhibit C-3, a standard permit is required.
A Standard Permit will require a full plan review and will require 20 to 25 business days. A Standard Permit will also require additional calculations to be submitted for review.
Appendix D contains the following information to assist the building permit process:
Presently solar installations are allowed in all zones within the City; rooftop systems will not need a zoning permit. However, ground-mounted PV installations may need to obtain a zoning permit. See Appendix E for the Zoning Permit Checklist for ground mounted PV systems. Ground mounted PV systems should comply with the setbacks required in the property base zoning designation as noted in The Philadelphia Code.
If during the building permit review, a PV project triggers a zoning review or is in conflict with the zoning code, then L&I will review the permit application, determine that the limitations are exceeded, issue a refusal, and advise the contractor to obtain a zoning variance. The contractor must then apply for a zoning variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). A ZBA review includes a public hearing and may range in time from several weeks to several months. Zoning restructuring is currently underway, but won’t be finalized soon. If you would like further direction on zoning your ground mounted system, contact the Program Director for Renewable Projects listed on the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability webpage.
Fire Department Requirements
The Fire Department does not require permits. However, L&I provides comments on PV systems related to the ability of the fire department to respond to emergencies safely as part of the building permit review. PV systems shall meet the following fire department requirements:
How does solar work?