Solar Energy System Installation Regulations Change Under New Legislation

Planning officials would do well to review their zoning and development codes to ensure compliance with new legislation signed into law by Governor Kitzhaber in June.  The bill, HB 3516, establishes the installation and use of solar photovoltaic energy systems or solar thermal energy systems on residential or commercial buildings as outright permitted uses in any zone where such structures are an allowed use.   One of the issues raised during legislative hearings on the bill focused on the sometimes difficult and costly permitting process that accompanies the permitting process for solar energy systems. The bill also establishes that approval of solar system permits are a “ministerial function” if installation can be accomplished: (1) without increasing the footprint of the residential or commercial structure; (2) without increasing the peak height of the section of the roof where the system is located; and (3) where the energy system is mounted so that the plane of the system is parallel to the slope of the roof.

Cities and Counties are also prohibited from collecting land use permit application fees or requiring extensive surveys or site evaluations for solar energy system permit applications.  However, those entities are allowed to charge building permits pursuant to ORS 455.020, 455.210 and 455.220.

The ministerial function, application fee, surveying and evaluation provision restrictions will not apply to solar energy systems located on residential or commercial structures that are federally or locally designated historic buildings, landmark or conservation landmarks, located in a historic district or located in an area designated as a significant scenic resource unless the material used is designated anti-reflective or 11 percent or less reflective.

HB 3516 goes into effect January 1, 2012.