SOUTHINGTON – Homeowners may have an easier time getting approval for ground-mounted solar arrays in residential areas after the Planning and Zoning Commission adopted new regulations for solar energy.
Rich Vocke, owner of Evergreen Energy and a solar panel installer, said there aren’t clear rules for when a homeowner can have ground solar panels. He prompted the town to look at adopting rules that would allow the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve installations with a special permit.
Rob Phillips, town planner, suggested ground-mounted solar panel regulations that are modeled after other area towns and regional planners. With solar power gaining in popularity, Phillips said the town should consider clarifying the process for installing them.
“We really don’t have a mechanism for this,” he said.
The PZC voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of the suggested regulations.
Some of the most permissive towns in the state have a box to check on building permits for installing ground-mounted solar. Others require approval from a planning group.
Phillips suggested solar panel approval be granted by special permit, a process that allows the commission latitude in accepting, modifying or denying a request.
New regulations limit solar panels to no more than 12 feet in height. The array can’t be larger than 50 percent of the square footage of the property’s main building, up to 600 square feet. Arrays can’t be in front yards and the commission could require screening to make the panels less visible to neighbors.
Several commission members asked about screening, saying panel arrays could affect views in town.
“I’d like there to be some type of screen,” said Jeffrey Gworek, a commission member. “In the dead of winter, the neighbors might be looking right at solar panels.”
Phillips said the commission would be able to require screening if it were needed.
Despite screening concerns, commission members said they were in favor of making it easier for residents to use solar power. Vocke said not all houses are oriented correctly for roof-mounted solar panels. He’s working with a homeowner who has a hip roof and can’t get very many panels on the roof.
John Spoonhour, a Hobart Street resident, spoke in favor of the changes. He put solar panels on his roof but wants other residents to be able to have solar even if their roof isn’t’ suitable.
“I just want this to be an easy process for homeowners,” he said.