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Will LA County Clean up its Act?

07/22/15

  09:19:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 692 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Safety, Ranting

Will LA County Clean up its Act?

We couldn’t suppress an ironic smile when we read the headline, Los Angeles [County] Assembling Solar Action Committee to Address PV Challenges.  “Physician, heal thy self,” immediately popped into mind given the propensity of LA County to create those very challenges!  Here’s our take on what LA County is up to.

According to the article at Solar Industry magazine’s website:

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) has created a Solar Energy Action Committee (SEAC) to facilitate an expansion of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic power in the region.

According to the DPW, there are many challenges that are preventing the state and local governments in California from meeting aggressive renewable energy goals. Many of these challenges relate to the interpretation and application of codes and regulations in both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, solar technology is evolving so quickly and with such variety that jurisdictions are having problems determining how to apply codes and standards.

Oh heavens, don’t get me started!  Well, ok, too late. 

How about this for just one example (from many): we recently completed a commercial project in LA County.  When we submitted our single line drawing to DPW (prepared and stamped by a licensed electrical engineer), it came back with nine “corrections".  Ultimately we were able to demonstrate to DPW that seven of the nine did not even relate to our project since they all were focused on either the DC side of a PV system (and our Enphase-based system had no such components) or they related to the size of a non-existent load-side breaker.  It took three iterations to whittle those bogus objections away, until we got down to the final nut: bonding.

Now one of the two remaining concerns was legit - DPW wanted our plans to call out two grounding rods.  Fine, easy, done.  But the remaining sticking point was a killer.  We were using Everest Solar racking, which has UL 2703 listed splices for its rails that bond those splices together.

Redundant bonding thanks to DPW

DPW refused to accept the splices for bonding, requiring bonding jumpers (like you see in the picture) across each splice.  Which begs the question: what is the point of manufacturers building products to meet a national spec, if a local jurisdiction like DPW can simply say, “not in my backyard?”

Everest also had at the time an approved mid-clamp with WEEB solution for bonding between modules.  In Pasadena, just across the street, that combination would have been approved without comment.  But not DPW, which  rejected the WEEB solution, requiring us to run a continuous #6 wire from module to module - all 246 of them!

Now when you talk to the folks at DPW they insist that this is all about safety.  To which we respond - rubbish!  What is the failure scenario that we are actually protecting against?  In theory, you are trying to ensure that no metallic part becomes energized without a pathway to ground.  That way if there is a fault, and someone touches the affected metal surface, current will not flow through them to ground (causing injury) because it has a lower resistance path to ground via the system bonding.

That is certainly a noble goal, but did the changes DPW insisted upon improve safety in the real world?  This array is on a free standing structure, 14′ above the ground so it isn’t likely that someone would ever casually come in contact with a metal surface to begin with.  But even if they did, what would that failure mode have to be?  On the one panel that happens to develop a fault, a minimum of two, and in most cases four, WEEB clips would have to fail at the same time!  Call me cynical, but I find that a highly unlikely event.

In contrast, the economic consequence of what had to be done to placate DPW was very real, adding thousands of dollars in parts and labor to the cost of the project, for an at best marginal improvement in safety.

So we are all for DPW taking steps to eliminate “PV challenges", but we would suggest they look at cleaning up their own act as the proper place to start.

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Comment from: jeff spies  
jeff spiesJim, LA DPW is the municipal utility for LA City not LA County. The County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works has recently established the Solar Energy Action Committee to address the more vexing issues relating to codes, standards, permitting and inspection for solar installations in cities that fall under LA County’s is attempting to get LA City (DPW) to participate in the Solar Energy Action Committee. I recently joined SEAC and serve as the representative for the solar manufacturers group. I believe SEAC is a positive step to help bridge the communication gap between building officials and the solar community. If you have any issues with LA county (not LA City/DPW) please do bring them to me and I will go to work with SEAC to address them.
07/22/15 @ 10:25
Comment from: Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO  
Hi Jeff - Nope, I’m not mixed up. LA DWP is the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and they are the muni for the City of LA. My post is not addressed to them (although they are another whole can of worms). No, I’m talking about the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works - one and the same entity that has created this SEAC. I agree that this is (potentially) a positive step. My only point was, before they go casting about to identify the causes of PV challenges, they should remove the plank from their own eye! Cheers… Jim
07/22/15 @ 10:44
Comment from: jeff spies  
jeff spiesJim, THe issue of bonding and grounding is indeed a challenging one, has been for years. I too have run into difficulties, most recently on metal shingle roofs where the permitting official required that every metal shingle be bonded to ground. This is impractical/impossible, so I contacted LA County and explained that metal shingles deserve the same consideration as “metal accessories) in section 9.1 of UL 2703 that allows accessories to not be grounded if the system meets 4 requirements #1 non separately derived, #2 points of grounding marked, #3 using listed wire management devices, and #4 sufficient wire management that would prevent conductive components contacting the metal accessories in the event of an accidental fault. After explaining this to the chief electrical inspector, LA county determined that solar could be installed on metal shingle roofs as long as these conditions were met. There are a number of thorny UL 2703 issues being address by LA County and based upon the review of our Quick Rack system, I feel their review is fair, and their requested supplements, edits, and changes to our listing are perfectly valid. While there will be some bumps along the way, I have found their review fair and reasonable. I promise to represent your concerns at next weeks SEAC meeting, but would appreciate more specific info on the UL 2703 listing for Everest to better understand why the problems exist with LA county. Feel free to call me at your convenience to discuss.
07/22/15 @ 11:22
Comment from: Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO  
Hi Jeff - Generally speaking, on resi projects County has only been something of an annoyance (for example, discounting wind tunnel testing results for ballast systems or not excluding live loads from the area beneath the array) but not a major cost factor. For the project described here, the impact was thousands of dollars - a result that neither I nor my client found reasonable. Jim
07/22/15 @ 12:01
Comment from: jeff spies
jeff spiesGlad to hear that the problems are not acute with Resi at LA County, but in my role with SEAC, I will be addressing both res and non-res, so the issue that prompted this blog post is still of interest to me. Let me know if you would be free to talk via phone so I can be prepared to address your issue next week.
07/22/15 @ 13:20
Comment from: omar_n  
5 stars
omar_nMuch needed content on the state of affairs for solar permitting & inspections in LA. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Hope that the county and the other AHJs take further steps to understanding the technology, installation process, and the issues at stake.
07/22/15 @ 13:46
Comment from: Stephanie
5 stars
StephanieThanks for keeping us up to date and holding local jurisdictions accountable for their rulings/actions as well as for initiating a valuable dialogue!
07/23/15 @ 17:56
Comment from: frank_muntean  
5 stars
frank_munteanJust try to re-roof a project in Los Angeles County for a residential project. Roofer contractor will not be allowed to pull a permit until solar installer takes a permit for re-installation. Solar Installer has to go thru the process as a brand new solar installation with wet stamp from structural engineer and electrical engineer. If the project was installed 2-3 years ago when central feed solar was allowed, now it is not permitted anymore, and you have to change also the main electrical panel. They ask you for the original approved plans but also they don’t have a copy, and they can’t provide it. I agree both roof and solar system have to be inspected but to see the solar system as a brand new installation it is a very long and costly way.
08/11/15 @ 14:03
Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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