DIY PV System -- Permits and Net Metering

Our new net meter just after installation.
How often do you see 0000 KWH :)


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This section covers the requirements for electrical permits and the net metering agreement with the utility company.


Electrical Permit

In our location (Gallatin County, Montana) a permit is required for a new PV system.  A homeowner is allowed to get the permit and do the work on his/her own home.  For work on apartments, commercial buildings, a licensed electrician is required, but as a homeowner, you are allowed to get a permit and do electrical work on your own home.  This may not be true in all areas, but I think it is fairly common.   I had one PV install company tell me that I could not do my own system, which was not true, so be careful who you ask.


In Montana, you can download the permit application form and mail it in.  The fee is $45, and in my case, it was turned around very quickly -- less than a week including mailing time both ways.  They will soon have an online system to allow you to do the whole thing online.


You are not allowed to start any work on the project until you have the permit in hand.


In our area, once you have finished the PV project, you call the local inspector, and arrange for the inspection. 


In our case the inspector was out within a couple days, and was friendly and helpful.   He approved the project with no redos or pickups, and had some helpful suggestions.


Net Metering

Our utility is NW Energy. 

They have an booklet you can download that provides some good information on PV systems

The Net Metering agreement can also be downloaded.


NW Energy does not want you to submit the Net Metering agreement until the electrical permit for the project has been signed off.

At this point, you mail in the Net Metering agreement, and within "2 to 4 weeks" they install a new net meter at your house.  In our case it only took about 1 week.


Again, the NW Energy guy who installed the new meter was friendly and helpful.

As far as I know, there is no fee for the new meter installation -- at least if there is one, it has not appeared yet.


Another small side benefit is that the new "Net" meter is digital, so its a lot easier to read than the old mechanical dial one we had.


I don't know if our experience was typical or not, but I have to say that I was surprised how smoothly and quickly it all went, and how helpful all of the people along the way were.


Net Metering Agreement

The net metering agreement that NW Energy uses is basically that if over some periods you generate more energy than you are using at your house, the meter runs "backwards", and essentially they buy the power from you at full retail.  If at the end of the year, you have produced more energy over the year than you have used, you do not get paid for the excess -- the account is zeroed out, and you start a new year.  So, under the NW agreement, you don't want a PV system that generates more power than you use over a year, because they will not pay you for the excess -- your bill cannot go below zero over a year.



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Gary November 21, 2009