NOTE: This post is now obsolete and this site is no longer actively updated. Permit costs may be different now, and Charlotte County does now require permits for solar pool heating.
Solar permitting is not a small cost in most Southwest Florida cities and counties. Typical solar pool heating permit costs range from $53 in Fort Myers to $226 in Collier County, with only one jurisdiction having no charge (Port Charlotte and Charlotte County). Solar water heating permit costs are similar. Solar electric permit costs can exceed $400.00 for typical residential solar permits in some jurisdictions like Naples, with most permit fees in the range of $80 to $250. Fort Myers typically has the lowest local permit fees, and Lee County seems to have the best grasp on what the fees are if you call to ask. Cape Coral’s solar permit fees are generally reasonable, and the process of obtaining a permit is the most straightforward.
While these fees don’t sound too outrageous, they can easily be 10% of the cost for many solar installations. The fees mentioned include inspections, but do not include engineering – many jurisdictions required signed and sealed drawings by a registered professional engineer for some solar energy installations. This drives up the cost of Southwest Florida solar permits further.
The building officials will tell you that the various plan reviews and inspections are necessary to meet the provisions of the Florida Building Code. However, there is clearly no consensus on that, given that a variety of different combinations of required reviews and inspections exist depending on jurisdiction.
Vermont has recently passed a state law that circumvents local jurisdictional opinions on required solar permits and inspections. The law eliminates permits and fees for small to medium residential solar energy. The goal of the law is to bring down some of the “soft costs” of solar energy, which continues to hold back the industry. This is a policy decision that allows solar energy professionals to practice without burdensome oversight. Here is a video explaining how this was implemented:
Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening any time soon in Florida due to the way solar contractors are licensed and the onerous provisions of the Florida Building Code. Contractors in Florida (and many states) are rigorously protective of their valuable licenses, which keep out unqualified workers, but also create barriers to entry by competitors. I wouldn’t want to see every guy with a van and a ladder installing solar, but the permitting costs and requirements could be relaxed without reducing licensing requirements.
As a percentage of cost, the permit fees are not too burdensome for solar electric (photovoltaic) installations in most area jurisdictions. Admittedly, there is a greater risk to life and property with solar electricity, particularly on the electrical side of the permitting process. Surprisingly, the emphasis seems to be much more heavily weighted toward the structural reviews and inspections, likely a result of many recent hurricanes and code changes.
However, simple solar pool heating systems, which are extremely numerous in Southwest Florida, should seemingly be permitted using a streamlined process and either not inspected or inspected in a rational and cursory way. After all, what is the real risk to people and property with a plumbing system that rest entirely outside the building envelope and disconnected from the plumbing system of a dwelling? What is the goal of a structural inspection for solar pool heating? Theoretically it would be to ensure that the attachments do not pull out of the roof in a high wind event or to ensure the panels do not contribute to the roof coming off the home. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have the panels disconnect and blow off the roof rather than contribute to any possible building damage. (The building code runs counter to this line of thinking in an apparent attempt to decrease the likelihood of wind-borne debris).
Permitting and inspections can be an effective way to ensure quality workmanship and safety, but it would be nice if Florida followed Vermont’s lead and improved the attitude toward solar in the various building departments with which we work every day.