When it comes to installing solar energy in Minnesota, advocates say, the path to going green is often snarled in red tape.
Getting building permits for fairly straightforward installations can take days — unnecessarily, the advocates say — and the delays cost money as work crews and suppliers wait around.
So the Minnesota Department of Commerce is embarking on an effort called the Minnesota Solar Challenge to streamline solar energy permitting processes and remove zoning roadblocks across the state.
It took its first step Friday, August 3, by choosing the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society to coordinate outreach efforts educate cities and towns about what’s needed and what’s not when it comes to solar installations.
For example, many building inspectors understandably worry about the extra weight of solar photovoltaic panels on roofs.
Some require installers hire a structural engineer to inspect the roof, said Laura Cina, managing director of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.
“That can add $500 to $1,000 to the project,” she said.
But if the panels are laid flat and tied to the trusses, they can actually help strengthen a roof, she said.
On the other hand, if the panels are raised off the roof at an angle, the wind can catch them and building inspectors should pay more attention to those installations, Cina said.
Cina will lead the effort to reach the cities and towns and help train their counter clerks and officials in a series of
While some cities have restrictions on solar energy installations, most cities simply have no regulations addressing them, she said.
The outreach effort will encourage those cities to adopt procedures modeled after those in St. Paul and Minneapolis, which are part of a U.S. Department of Energy program to encourage more rooftop solar installations.
Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said working with local leaders to change permitting procedures or zoning barriers is a critical part of an effort to meeting the state’s renewable energy goals.
The Minnesota Solar Challenge, which is funded by a $260,000 Department of Energy grant, also has efforts to work on issues of interconnection with utilities and how much to pay for solar electricity sold into the grid from installations that make more than the customer uses, Cina said.
Cina’s program has a deadline of Feb. 15 next year to complete its work.
Leslie Brooks Suzukamo can be reached at 651-228-5475. Follow him at twitter.com/suzukamo