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Solar Energy Best Practices for BC Communities

We believe that the installation of solar energy generation systems on residential and commercial building makes good public policy sense. Photovoltaic panels allow public buildings in particular to generate more of their own power.  These may be used in conjunction with wind generators or solar hot water panels. Here, the payback may be measured in two ways: in the dollars saved directly on energy costs and in the reduction in peak energy demands that could be achieved, thereby reducing or delaying the need to build new major power generation facilities. In areas serviced by BC Hydro, the cost of public power remains lower than the cost of photo-voltaic generation--at present energy prices.

Update (2017): In response to our campaign the City of Vancouver has greatly streamlined the process for newer single family buildings.  We believe there is still room for some improvement in the process for older single family and commercial buildings (which together make up the majority of buildings in Vancouver).

We continue working with the cities in BC to adopt better policies for solar energy installations. We are asking them to look at best practices in other cities and adopt permitting policies similar to the cities of Toronto, Calgary, Seattle and San Jose for Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems. As well, we recommend reducing the cost of electrical permits for PV systems.

In 2014 the cost of permitting a PV system in Vancouver was 6 times the cost of an equivalent system in Toronto or Calgary.  At that time it appeared that Vancouver’s requirements were the most expensive, longest and complex of any municipality in Canada.  They have made steps to improve this and we encourage other municipalities to do the same.

Suggested text for municipalities:
"I was disappointed to learn that the city of _____ still has not streamlined the process and reduced the cost of permitting a photovoltaic (PV) systems. It can be as much as 6 times the cost of an equivalent system in Toronto or Calgary.  Local generation of electricity through photovoltaic systems helps cities meet sustainability goals and supports the local clean-tech sector.  Please consider adopting guidelines similar to Toronto, Seattle, Colwood, Calgary and San Jose for building permits.  Also please consider adopting flat-fee reduced price electrical permitting for PV systems similar to Toronto.  For more information visit: http://www.spec.bc.ca/SolarBP "

Background Information

For information on Toronto's permit requirements see:http://www1.toronto.ca/static_files/GuideBuildingPermitRequirementsSolar-Oct-10.pdf

“If the installation of solar panels on a roof of a residential Part 9 building falls below the following conditions then the addition of the solar panels will not require additional structural support and hence the installation should not require a building permit in the City of Toronto.”

For information on Colwood, BC's permit requirements see:  https://colwood.civicweb.net/document/64931/Policy%20for%20the%20Installation%20of%20Solar%20Photo%20Voltaic.pdf?handle=813C788846D347C7A357207F1F3117EF

"Solar PV panels may be installed on the roofs of buildings within the City of Colwood without a building permit provided the installations comply with the following criteria,
  1. The PV systems distributed weight does not exert a load greater than 24.4 kg/sq. M ( 5lbs/sq. ft.) on the roof,
  2. The system connection to the roof results in the each point of connection being less than 22.5 kg (50lbs),
  3. The PV panels are flush mounted on existing construction in an approved manner per the manufacturers installation instructions, 


For the City of Seattle see: http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/publications/CAM/cam420.pdf

"Building Permit Building permits may not be required for solar electric systems when all the following are met and confirmed by the installer. Exemption from the permit requirements does not authorize any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of code, laws or ordinances:

  • Photovoltaic System is designed and proposed for a rooftop of a single family house.
  • Mounting system is engineered and designed for Photovoltaics.
  • Rooftop is made from lightweight material such as shingle.
  • Panels are mounted no higher than 18” above the surface of the roofing which they will be affixed.
  • Except for flat roofs, no portion of the system may exceed the highest point of the roof.
  • Total dead load of panels, supports, mountings, raceways and all other appurtenances weigh no more than 5 pounds per square foot.
  • Supports for solar panels are installed to spread the dead load across as many roof framing members as needed to ensure that at no point are loads in excess of 50 pounds exerted on a single member.
  • Attachment to the roof is specified by the mounting system manufacturer.
  • Method and type of weatherproofing roof penetrations is provided.
  • Structure is code compliant to land use regulations, such as setbacks and height.
City of San Jose: see http://www.sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?nid=1505

“…building permits are not required for roof installations that do not exceed any of the following criteria:

  • Total panel weight (including frame) is greater than 5 lbs. per square foot

  • Maximum concentrated load at each point of support exceeds 40 lbs.

  • Maximum height above roof surface exceeds 18 inches

The City of Calgary: see http://www.calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Documents/building/green/sustainable_technologies_permitting_matrix.pdf

  • Building permits and engineer's reports not required for both residential and commercial retrofits meeting specified requirements.
  • Development Permit only required if modules extend a certain amount above roof.

The City of Dawson Creek also does not require building permits for Solar PV systems: http://peaceenergy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/pecnewssummer13.pdf

The Solar America Board for Codes and Practices recommends an expediated permitting process for installation that meet specific requirements:

The State of California has put together a guidebook for solar permitting:


Under California Assembly Bill 2188 municipalities in California are required to use an expedited permitting process. The approach of the City of Vancouver would be illegal in California.

Comparison of Costs for a Residential 5 kW PV System (flush mount)  


Toronto Germany
Electrical Permit $824 $824 $290 $0
Contractor or homeowner staff time for electrical permit         $60 $60 $60 $0
Building Permit   $100 $0 $0
Contractor or homeowner staff time for building permit.
  $120 $0 $0
Structural Engineer   $800 $0 $0
Development Permit $0-500 $0-500 $0 $0
Total $884 $1,904 $350 $0

Contact Information for City of Vancouver:

Vancouver Mayor and Council: mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca
Assistant Director responsible for Building Permits: patrick.ryan@vancouver.ca
Deputy City Manager Responsible for Green Initiatives: sadhu.johnston@vancouver.ca
Development Services: john.greer@vancouver.ca

Society Promoting Environmental Conservation

2305 West 7th Ave 

Vancouver, BC  V6K 1Y4

T: 604.736.7732
E:  admin@spec.bc.ca

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