Sometimes the finer points of law and policy can get a little foggy. Even the best and the brightest can’t think of everything when they’re writing legislation, making it inevitable that some of these little gray areas will pop up; situations and circumstances where it’s just not clear exactly what the folks who passed the law actually intended. Normally however, these more cloudy points of law show up in very nuanced situations – details piled upon details that no one could have foreseen. It’s very rare that a routine piece of law –a law that addresses only one commonplace piece of one commonplace subject– possesses such murkiness.
Take external disconnect switches for solar power systems for instance. An external disconnect switch is essentially a redundant shut-off switch for your solar power system installed outside your home where the utility company has access to it (the redundancy makes it an unnecessary expense you shouldn’t have to pay, but that’s another matter). Some states do not require external disconnect switches. Some states do require external disconnect switches (these states also typically set out requirements for the switch). It’s really a pretty black and white situation. It’s either yes or no; switch required or switch not required. No muss, no fuss, no murkiness.
Except in Ohio, that is …
Here at SPR we do everything possible to bring you the most accurate and up to date information on solar power in your area. In addition to keeping up with the state legislatures and the laws they pass, we like to look through the best of the secondary sources to make sure we bring you the most thorough and up to date information possible. Last week we were going over our Ohio solar summary and investment analysis and we noticed (possibly for the first time ever) that two of our most trusted sources disagreed.
The folks over at DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency) say that in Ohio an external disconnect switch is “[n]ot required [but] if installed [the switch] must meet safety criteria.” Meanwhile, our friends at the Network for New Energy Choices, in their annual publication Freeing the Grid (reviewing state interconnection and net metering policy) recommend that Ohio interconnection standards could be improved by “[r]emov[ing] requirement for redundant external disconnect switch.”
Obviously the statements of DSIRE and New Energy Choices conflict with each other. So who is correct, and is an external disconnect switch required in Ohio? Well, after a bit of investigation …. we still don’t know!
First we called up a couple of expert installers in Ohio (names redacted to protect the innocent). One installer told us that he’s never gotten a definitive answer on the external disconnect switch question, but he always recommends an external disconnect switch, but only because of the time-tested policy he politely referred to as “C.Y.A.” Hoping for more clarity, we called another solar panel installer. The second installer told us that he’s never gotten a definitive answer on the external disconnect switch question, and, after explaining the options, generally leaves that decision to the individual customer.
People less geeky (or less concerned with clean and efficient renewable energy!) than us might have given up at that point. Here at SPR however, we don’t admit defeat quite that easily. Plus we remembered that one of us actually has a law degree … So determined to settle this once and for all, we sent our law degree guy digging through the dusty files of the Ohio legislature’s website to have a look at this law and tell us what the deal was.
You can already see where this is going. Our resident lawyer came back explaining that “it really depends, and there is a strong argument to be made both that an external disconnect switch is and is not required, and without investigating the legislative history … and (we stopped listening to the lawyer speak at this point).”
So there you (don’t) have it. We’ve been studying solar power policy for years here at SPR, and this is the first time we can’t tell you for sure what the heck one of the finer points of a state’s policy actually is. But before anyone goes rushing out to investigate that legislative history, let’s not forget the really important here: whether or not an external disconnect switch is required, a solar power system is still a pretty sweet deal for you and your home. To find out just how good of a deal, and how much money a solar power system can save you, go check out the Ohio state page for more information.
Last modified: July 23, 2012