Local Code Officials Solar Smarter From New In-Person Training Course

As building plan reviewers, building and electrical inspectors, and other code officials work to keep pace with the swift acceleration of solar installations in their jurisdictions, one thing is for sure. Updated, job-focused professional training is critical, including the latest best practices for permitting plan review processes.

In response, IREC created a new in-person Solar Permitting Plan Review Course specifically for local building and electrical code officials, which piloted in three states this month, the first of more than 40 such solar trainings planned in 2017 across the U.S. The instructor-facilitated course complements IREC’s recently updated interactive online PVOT course (photovoltaic online training), accessed by more than 5,000 code officials since its launch four years ago.

The training is an IREC priority under STEP (Solar Training and Education for Professionals) with funding from the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

PV systems can be as straightforward as many of the electrical systems these code officials review or inspect. But the technology is advancing at lightning speed, new electrical codes are pertinent, and learning about evolving best practices for the plan review process can help Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) complete a solar PV plan review as effectively and efficiently as other plans. This is particularly important as many local inspectors wear multiple hats, holding titles from Combination Residential Inspector, Commercial Plumbing and Mechanical Inspector, Electrical Plan Reviewer and Fire Protection Inspector, in any combination or all of the above.

The full-day Solar Permitting Plan Review Course is designed to provide a practical process to consistently review submitted solar plans, with an emphasis on how to catch the most frequent installation errors. Taught by a team of six national experts, the course walks participants through the review of actual permit plan applications, with exercises that teach and test a participant’s knowledge.

“The code officials were really engaged. The interactive approach caught them off guard,” says Pete Jackson, chief electrical inspector for the city of Bakersfield, CA and one of the trainers for the pilot course. “It is a different training than they have had before. This one is about the larger topics and the process of reviewing a plan, rather than strictly code requirements.”

The sentiment was echoed by many participants. One code official critiqued the course this way: “The hands on approach, having actual plans to work through, was much better than a straight code lecture.” Another commented: “I walked away a lot more confident knowing what I am looking at and what to look for.” The course was created to have that learning effect, well beyond the typical power point presentation.

“The new in-person course has a different focus than the online training, and each complements the other,” according to Kristen Ferguson, IREC senior program manager for PV training. She explains: “The in-person course offers a hands-on approach for reviewing a plan. The online course focuses on the many aspects of field inspection. It is because the field inspection is done according to an approved plan that the in-person plan review course is such an important building block. Both courses build on what code officials already know and deal with in their current work and introduce solar PV concepts in a way that demystifies the technology.”

IREC’s deployment of these trainings relies on the strong support received from local chapters of the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), national STEP partners, as well as local municipalities.

A final note that sets this training up for success: “Our instructors are subject matter experts (SMEs) of the highest caliber, collectively with upwards of 100 years’ worth of practical experience as, electricians, code officials, and inspectors,” says Kristen. “As the solar industry has grown, they have gained extensive knowledge of the electrical and structural codes that impact and directly refer to solar installations. There are many SMEs on code, but not everyone can stand up in front of other code officials and teach successfully. Participants appreciate the STEP instructors breadth of knowledge and their ability to effectively communicate.”

For more information or to schedule a training, contact step@irecusa.org

Image: City of Kennedale

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