Other Services Offered
Utility-scale solar projects are managed using a team approach. This means that most projects are reviewed by the same reviewers from beginning to end. Likewise, most projects are inspected by the same field inspectors. Collectively, this allows for expertise and continuity throughout the life of the project.
Solar Gis Mapping
All utility-scale solar electric generating facilities are included in our PlanNet GIS mapping system, which allows staff and the general public the ability to isolate solar projects from other projects in the mapping system and to distinguish between solar projects at the various stages of development.
Concurrent CPA/SUP Review
The typical entitlement process involves a Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA), which leads to the Special Use Permit (SUP) application; however, this serial progression inherently adds time to the overall entitlement process. Since a typical CPA and SUP each takes approximately 6 months to process, the overall time spent can be a year or more if these are taken sequentially. In order to reduce the overall time spent in the entitlement process, however, the Department may process CPA and SUP applications concurrently, with the understanding that the SUP approval is contingent upon the prior approval of the related CPA and that all other relevant regulatory requirements are met. This dual-processing of entitlement cases has the potential to reduce entitlement processing times by as much as 50%, thereby providing an opportunity for substantial savings.
Early TAC Comments
Typically, staff endeavors to have all planning cases to the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) within 60 days of application submittal. Historically, planning staff routes these applications to both internal and external agencies, with direction to provide comment within a specified time period. Staff then gathers all review comments received to date and incorporates them with the comments prepared by the staff planner. This packet of TAC comments is presented to the applicant at the TAC meeting. As an alternative, when circumstances allow, staff will assemble and forward TAC comments to the applicant approximately one week in advance of the actual TAC meeting. This allows the applicant to review the TAC comments in advance of the TAC meeting and come to that meeting prepared to ask questions, potentially reducing the number of follow-up meetings.
The plans for a Special Use Permit must be prepared by a civil engineer who is registered in the State of Arizona; however, it is not uncommon for the owner to award the actual construction contract to a different engineering firm or a full-service engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor. It is important that the final construction design be generally consistent with the preliminary design that was approved during the SUP process. Further, the construction permit review process involves the evaluation of very complex and detailed components, which may include specialized equipment requiring evaluation by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL).
The type of information and the manner in which this information is presented is important. To help facilitate this process, the Planning and Development Department recommends that a pre-submittal meeting be scheduled as early in the final design process as possible, once the construction contract has been awarded. Several meeting may be required and are even encouraged.
Intake by Appointment
Typically, applicants arrive at the Department and submit their plans over the counter; however, due to the complexity of the solar projects, applicants will schedule an appointment with Department staff for the purpose of facilitating the permit submittal. This allows staff the opportunity to take a cursory look at the plans before committing staff time to a potentially deficient plan set, thereby saving time in the long run. For larger projects, staff and the applicant may establish standing meetings, which provides some regularity to the permit submittal process.
Biweekly/Monthly Coordination Meetings
Staff may schedule biweekly or monthly meetings with representatives from owner and their EPC contractor. During these meetings, staff is available to address any issues that may have arisen during the preceding two to four week period and can offer guidance for activities during the upcoming period. The applicant sets the meeting's agenda, with staff being in a supportive/facilitative role. The frequency and duration of these meetings may be revisited as circumstances warrant.
Construction permits relating to utility-scale solar projects will receive top-of-stack priority over non-solar permits, provided such prioritization does not hinder the department's ability to adhere to other performance standards, in particular, those relating to A.R.S. 11-1605.
Bridging of Code Cycles
As noted in the References and Guidelines section above, Section 205 of Maricopa County's Local Additions and Addenda (PDF) will allow the bridging of construction code cycles for utility-scale solar electrical generating facilities. Since many of the facilities being constructed in unincorporated Maricopa County are quite large, requiring multiple related but separate permits, having to accommodate changes to the adopted codes could be problematic. By bridging the code cycles, a project may begin construction under one version of the code and finish under that same code, even after the new codes have been adopted.
For many years, the Department has offered a trust account program which applicants who conduct business with the Department on a regular basis may utilize to pay for services rendered by the Department. The Department establishes the account with the applicant funding that account by whatever means they deem appropriate. When permit activity generates a fee, the Department will pull from the trust account with the applicant replenishing the account as necessary.
The Department will make periodic accounting statements available to the applicant. The funds remain under the ownership of the applicant and are not recognized as revenue by the department until earned by a particular activity. The applicant may terminate the trust account and any time and any remaining funds will be returned to the applicant upon request. This allows the applicant to avoid having to pay by credit card or write a check for the exact amount due after fees are accessed. Further, this allows developers to avoid unnecessary delays in the inspection process that occur as a result of fees being added to an issued permit due to deferred submittals or modifications to approved designs.