Chris Lord and Keith Cronin discuss property records, attractive solar markets and permitting processes on the Solar Executive MBA Training discussion board.
- It’s often helpful to work with a county clerk when determining which property records you’ll need
- Solar market attractiveness is dependent on factors like ease of access, stability of incentives and access to capital
- Finding local partners can facilitate an easy permitting process
Student 1: I have been conducting property research for my solar project. This includes the local county assessor’s property records and the county’s clerk and recorder database of public records. What other resources do you recommend for property / title research?
Chris Lord: It sounds like you hit the two most important public records. You want to know the tax position of the property (current or arrears, and how much annual property taxes are), but more importantly you want to have a solid history of the property’s ownership chain so that you can be comfortable you are getting clean title. You are going to buy title insurance when you close on the property or execute the lease, of course, but you want to know as early in the process as possible that the title looks clean and there are no easements to worry about.
As for other public records that may be available in your area specifically: you might talk with your local County Clerk to see what he or she recommends. For example, most states have a public record of environmentally contaminated lands, and you would want to establish that your site is not included or adjacent to such parcels.
Student 2: What, in your opinion, are the most attractive solar markets in the USA? We are located in Southern California and we have a branch in Connecticut.
Keith Cronin: Solar markets are constantly changing– so, it depends on the utility programs, incentives, saturation levels and new technologies being deployed and adopted.
To me, attractiveness is a few things:
- Ease of access- without interconnection, the business doesn’t exist
- Stable incentives- look what happened in Nevada and Hawaii
- Access to capital- funding at a reasonable IRR to make the economics desirable for investors
International markets, however, are quite different from the US markets. This is true in terms of regulations, cost per watt installed and access to the grid.
To enter new markets (where there isn’t an existing market), takes time and resources. Early adopters are the pioneers, but when a market matures, many settlers show up and this puts pressure on pricing and margins are impacted.
Student 3: How long does it take to get the permit in the US once you have submitted an application? In the UK we have standard time frames for processing applications – is there something like this in most states as my research suggests there may not be?
Keith Cronin: Good question, but unfortunately, it depends. More mature markets have a process in place, but when markets are mature, most permitting processes are steeped in too much work. In new markets, the process is not in place, so you’ll often have to stumble forward.
We wish there was a standard within any state, but often local counties and cities have different rules and regulations and until you work in a specific locale, its always unclear.
It also depends upon the type of permit as well. As you look at the development plan, you’ll see lots of categories. A FEMA permit will have a longer lead time, than a building permit. But I’ve also experienced the opposite.
Student 4: Hi Student 3, I am new to this industry and the development process and, as an outsider, I am finding that the permitting process is a bit vague and very dependent upon jurisdiction. It appears to be similar to a layered cake where different levels of government place different requirements on development. For my project, at the bottom of the layers is the local level or municipality, that bubbles up to the county level, which then feeds into the state. In addition there is a regional building department that works at the county level just to make it interesting. Add on top of this there are different Utilities which serve the area that the regional building department covers. This doesn’t even cover any environmental impact or other types of studies that may be required.
I have located each areas development process guidelines and a schedule of fees, but it is still unclear what exactly I will need. It is becoming very apparent that finding and connecting with local partners who understand the layers and players will create real value in navigating the permitting process. This is definitely on my critical path!
Keith Cronin: Indeed. One of the challenges with the US market is the inconsistency with permitting, rules and regulations. Every project is a “one-off” and contributes to higher installation or overall project costs.
Yes- its all about partnering with locals as they know the rules of engagement and while it might seem like another line on the excel, remember the time value of money and the true cost of projects languishing.
Chris Lord: In addition to the environmental and construction permits referenced above, there is also a need in some states, such as Maryland, for a Public Service Commission approval. In Maryland, the approval is called a CPCN – Certificate for Public Convenience and Need. Luckily there are exemptions that favor small and mid-sized utility scale projects, but even there you typically file a self-certification or exemption application. Public Service Commission approvals take as long as they take, but expect a six to nine month process from completion of the application and assuming no serious objections are filed by third parties (i.e. neighbors). Exemption can be faster, say 30 to 90 days after completion or acceptance of an application deemed completed.
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About Keith Cronin – SunHedge LLC
Keith Cronin is an in-demand business consultant, speaker and founder of The Solar Business Blueprint, a life changing training program that assists business owners with the tools, resources and metrics needed to grow and manage their solar businesses. He has helped solar companies achieve their goals through his training, speeches, coaching sessions and products. Keith’s life changing message reaches people all over the US, Canada, Central and South America. Keith lives in Kailua Hawaii.
About Chris Lord – CapIron, Inc.
Christopher J. Lord is a lawyer with deep banking experience, and the Managing Director of CapIron, Inc., a firm he founded in late 2011, to provide advisory and consulting services to customers, owners, developers, utilities, suppliers, installers and distributors covering the full range of value-add in renewable energy and energy efficiency. CapIron has provided consulting and modeling services for waste-to-energy projects, advisory services to a large-scale distributed generation solar project, consulting and advisory services in the solar thermal industry and early-stage development of a startup wind energy company.