Part 2: Installing Solar System in Lowell

Part 2: Installing Solar Systems in Lowell: Zoning and Permits

  1. The City of Lowell allows rooftop and ground-mounted solar systems in all areas of the city, consistent with state law. The City of Lowell permits rooftop solar energy systems and ground-mounted solar energy systems in every district of the City without special permits, conditions, or variances. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts effectively set this policy for Lowell in MGL 40A Section 3:

 “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.”

The City interprets this statute as establishing a land-owner’s right to install photovoltaic energy systems (PV) on his or her roof or property, provided the installation is safe and secure, and does not degrade Lowell’s investment in restoring its historic character. Staff will recommend zoning amendments to the newly inaugurated City Council in 2018 to codify this interpretation and to fulfill one of the goals of the City’s Master Plan: 

“Identify the impediments to implementation of renewable energy systems on private homes and commercial properties, and seek to address them through education, permit streamlining, and ordinances which properly balance incentives with regulation of potentially harmful impacts.” 

Goal 7: Produce Energy from Renewable Sources

City employees do not have the discretion to prohibit a building owner from installing solar PV, though they do have a responsibility to ensure that installations are safe and secure. To protect public health, safety, and welfare, Lowell requires that installers of PV systems receive an electrical permit. Lowell [has established a streamlined permitting process for all residential installations and for rooftop commercial systems that do not raise historic preservation issues.. The streamlined process is designed to deliver decisions on permits applications within three business days of their receipt. Permits for historic properties and for commercial ground-mounted systems are not streamlined but are handled within 10 days of their receipt.

2. Solar energy systems require electrical permits:

Before installing a solar energy system, your installer will need to apply for and receive the appropriate permit from the City. Lowell combines its building and electrical permits in a single application form for solar projects. The permitting and inspection checklist explains each step of the process and the fees involved. For typical residential and commercial systems, the Lowell Development Services Division issues most permits within three days of receiving a completed application. Large ground-mounted systems require a more thorough permit review and take up to 10 days.

3. Solar energy systems must be inspected and approved:

Your solar installer will work with Development Services to schedule the necessary inspection(s) to ensure that the system has been installed properly and will operate safely. The details of the process are described in the permitting checklist 

4. National Grid needs to make the final connection:

Before your installer can energize your solar system, National Grid will have to complete the “interconnection” process. Making this happen is your installer’s responsibility. Interconnection is not a trivial matter and is best dealt with early in the process. Well before you purchase panels or put anything on your roof, your installer should ensure that National Grid will accept the location and size of your planned system without requiring you to pay for costly upgrades to the local circuit.

5. Solar Permitting and Inspection Checklist:

Click here for the Solar Permitting & Inspection Checklist