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Permission to operate: What is PTO for a solar system and how to get it

So you’ve invested in a solar panel system, and await the day it starts generating power for your home or business. But before you can turn it on, you need to obtain PTO – Permission to Operate. What is PTO, why is it important, and how to get it – let’s break it all down.

PTO is the green light from utility to turn PV system on

Permission to Operate (PTO) is a formal approval from your utility company to connect your newly installed solar panel system to the electrical grid. The utility must confirm that your solar system is installed according to all necessary safety codes and interconnection standards. PTO is also a prerequisite for participating in net metering programs. Net metering allows you to send excess solar energy you generate back to the grid in exchange for credits on your electricity bill.

The process of getting PTO includes several steps, such as system inspection and installation of a bi-directional meter. It can take several weeks. Let’s go over the steps on this way in detail.

Getting PTO: Step-by-step guide

The process of getting PTO for your solar system may differ depending on your state and utility company, so it’s always a good idea to contact your utility or solar installer for more details about the process. There’s a general roadmap of what you can expect. 

Step #1: Application

After your solar panel installation is complete, you or your installer need to submit an application to your utility company, requesting permission to connect your system to the grid. This application includes details about your system’s specifications. If you’re getting your PTO through your solar installer, they know what documents should be submitted. If you do it yourself, better contact your utility company for a complete list.

Step #2: Inspections

After reviewing your application and studying all the documents, the utility will schedule inspections to verify your application’s accuracy and ensure code compliance. This may involve inspections from both the utility and your local building department. During these inspections, the utility will replace your existing meter with a bi-directional meter suitable for net metering. This new meter can track both the electricity you consume from the grid and the electricity your solar panels generate that feeds back into the grid. 

Step #3: Approval

Once inspections are passed and any identified concerns are addressed, the utility will grant you PTO. This typically arrives in the form of a document or email confirmation. Now when everything is connected and verified, your solar system can be officially “energized,” and you can start generating your own solar power.

Getting PTO: Installer vs. DIY

Obtaining PTO is the final step before connecting your solar system to the grid. To install a solar system, you will also require permits from the city planning or building departments to confirm that your system complies with the building and electrical codes in the area.

PTO for your solar system can be obtained either through your solar installer or on your own. Each path offers its own set of advantages and drawbacks.

Going with your solar installer

Applying for PTO through your solar installer is the easiest way. Solar installers know the ropes of the process and can handle most of the paperwork, inspections, and communication with the utility company, saving you time and hassle. You’ll just need to provide them with the information they request and sign off when needed. Yet this convenience comes at a cost. You’ll pay a premium for their services on top of the equipment and installation costs, but this is often included in the initial installation plan.

Going on your own

A DIY approach can save you some money but requires more effort and attention to detail. Any mistakes can significantly delay your PTO approval, and there are so many opportunities for errors in the process.

Contact your utility company to get a complete list of required documents and application forms. You’ll need to gather a hefty pile of documents like: photos of your system, past inspection reports, electrical diagrams, site maps, system plans, fire-safety and engineering certifications, PV labels and placard placement map, and application forms. Double-check everything before submitting. You will also need to schedule with your utility the visit of a technician to check your system and install a new meter or reprogram your existing one for net metering.

Obtaining PTO can take from weeks to months

The wait time for obtaining PTO depends on local regulations and the workload of your utility company. In general, expect a waiting period of around one to two months for residential solar systems. This includes roughly a month for application processing and another month for inspections and final PTO issuance.

Some utilities can handle PTO requests faster than others – in as little as a few weeks. Larger or more complex solar panel systems may require more time for document review and inspections. Unfortunately, waiting times can stretch beyond the expected timeframe. Backlogs at the utility company or unforeseen complications during inspections can lead to delays of several months or even longer.

Andrey Gorichenski
Senior Editor

One of our customers encountered a situation when a solar system was physically installed in December but the PTO was granted in January. This led to confusion because they couldn’t figure out whether they could claim Solar Tax Credit right away or had to wait for the next year.

There is not a definite answer to this situation yet. The taxable year to claim the tax credit is the year the "installation of the solar system is completed." Unfortunately, the IRS does not exactly clarify what 'being completed' means - does it mean 'installed' or 'put in service'? We believe that you can consider your system ‘completed’ when it was installed and was ready to be turned on. Therefore we advised the customer to not wait and claim ITC right away.

Years of experience in translation and a love of nature help Julia find the right words to encourage going solar. She joined the team in 2023 and is happy to make her contribution to a greener future.

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