May 19, 2020

Permitting and Inspection for Clean Energy Projects through the COVID-19 Emergency

Rhys Webb, Program Administrator

The need to socially isolate to reduce transmission of COVID-19 coronavirus has led to great uncertainty across the Commonwealth. One common question is which businesses can continue to operate, and how they can continue to do so safely. The clean energy industry is no exception. MassCEC has assembled the information below to help clean energy businesses and customers understand how they can continue to pursue projects in line with current restrictions.

Solar Installers and HVAC installers considered essential

Governor Baker recently clarified that both the solar installation and HVAC industries generally are considered to be essential services, meaning that they have been deemed essential to maintaining critical infrastructure or supply chain viability and are thus allowed to continue operations while the Governor’s “stay at home” advisory is in effect. All construction projects, including clean energy projects, must also continue to abide by COVID-19 Order No. 13 regardless of the project’s state of completion. Order No. 13 outlines COVID-19 safety guidelines and procedures for all construction sites.

Permitting can be done electronically, and other processes may be remote or extended

Installation of a solar PV system or heat pump also requires permitting at the municipal level. In an effort to address challenges to both safety and productivity during the COVID-19 state of emergency, the Massachusetts General Court recently passed a relief bill that amends local permitting laws and delays permitting deadlines for the duration of the state of emergency. On April 3, 2020 Governor Baker signed H.4598 An Act to address challenges faced by municipalities and state authorities resulting from COVID-19 into law. This Act applies to all residential and commercial construction under the jurisdiction of municipalities, including installation of rooftop solar PV systems and air- and ground-source heat pumps.

Section 17 of the newly-enacted law outlines the amendments being made to permitting processes, three of which are highlighted below:

  • Most significantly, this new legislation specifies that permit applications “may be filed electronically, through an electronic submission website established by the permit granting authority or through attachment of the requisite forms and supplemental materials to electronic mail sent to the clerk, secretary or official” for the duration of the state of emergency.
  • Deadlines for hearings, performance deadlines, and expiry dates established in permits granted prior to the March 10th state of emergency declaration will be suspended, though they will resume 45 days after its termination. However, hearings and meetings will still be able to move forward remotely, and permit granting authorities can issue decisions on permit applications so long as they have held the necessary remote public hearings.
  • Finally, the legislation prevents permits from being granted, denied, or expired based on a failure to act on the part of the permit granting authority or a failure to perform on the part of the permit applicant. This final amendment will continue throughout the state of emergency and for 60 days after its termination.

Resources are available for municipalities and building/inspection departments to implement electronic and remote processes

Understanding that the implementation of remote permitting and inspection processes is new to many municipalities, groups across the nation are developing resources and tool kits to assist in putting these new procedures into practice. These resources include guidance and case studies from other municipalities that have implemented remote permitting and inspection protocols:

Essentially, delaying deadlines and switching to an electronic permitting process and remote hearings gives cities and towns the opportunity to keep the clean energy industry moving while still adhering to social distancing guidelines and maintaining public health and safety. We at MassCEC hope that this legislation and the information in this post provides solar and heat pump installers, as well as municipal building and inspections teams, with the resources to continue operations in a safe and socially distant way.