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Public Hearing Set for New Solar Panel Ordinance

As use rises, the 'model ordinance' will place regulations and restrictions on solar photovoltaic systems to ease the process for installers.

The Upper St. Clair commissioners Monday night scheduled a public hearing for March 4 on a solar panel ordinance amendment.

The "model ordinance" creation was funded by the Department of Energy. About two dozen other municipalities in Allegheny County and Penn Future took part in coming up with the ordinance.

The "model ordinance" for the two-dozen municipalities places regulations and restrictions on solar photovoltaic systems and is expected to ease the process for installers. As of now, the approval process can be lengthy for residents and installers.

A Penn Future representative previously told the Upper St. Clair Planning Commission that residential use of solar panels is on the rise in the area. He said there is plenty of sun in Pittsburgh to produce energy.

Director of Community Development Scott Brilhart previously told the planning commissioners that about six residents have asked for approval to add solar panels to their properties in the township.

The amendment would restrict where residents can put solar panels on their property, and require screening and setbacks. Solar panels on the front of a roof would be required to be parallel to the roof and no panels would be allowed to go over the height of the roof. Signage and advertising would also be prohibited. 

Roger January 08, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Quoting; "The "model ordinance" for the two-dozen municipalities places regulations and restrictions on solar photovoltaic systems and is expected to ease the process for installers. As of now, the approval process can be lengthy for residents and installers. ..." I read this to mean that the two dozen municipalities want a consistent ordinance that spans across boundaries. The installers know what to expect from location to location. Do I read this correctly? If this to be the case, and this is to be considered a good thing, then why the push back for Act 13 regarding MS drilling? This is exactly what Act 13 was wanting to accomplish -- the drillers know the rules will span across geographical boundaries, and not be negotiated with each municipality one by one. The drilling industry was asked to negotiate with each municipality, and abide by a patchwork set of rules. The stated reason for wanting to enact the "model ordinance" for solar installations is to ease the installations. This is what Act 13 was intended to do. If the plans for the solar panel rules are good, then why is there an objection when the same principle was used to draft the ideas behind Act 13?
B January 08, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Roger, I too wonder about that statement, except what I am wondering is related to "As of now, the approval process can be lengthy for residents and installers." What IS the current approval process in Upper St. Clair? This is making it sound like the current process is more restrictive than the proposed process.I didn't know there was any process at all, certainly there is nothing on the township website. To me, it sounds like the new ordinance is going to make it harder for the average homeowner to add solar if they want. Given the fact that in the past 5 years, solar panel efficiency has increased exponentially, it would only hinder the average homeowner from adding panels. Does anyone know if/whjat the current process is for adding solar panels?
Maria Miller January 08, 2013 at 04:13 PM
The Solar panels do not effect anyone else except aesthetically. MS drilling causes environmental damage when not done properly.
Roger January 08, 2013 at 06:53 PM
Maria, what you said may be considered true is the minds of some, but it is irrelevant to the discussion.
Lynne January 09, 2013 at 04:03 AM
Agree...my feelings as well!
Deb January 09, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Not really irrelevant when you, Roger, tied the two together. And the fact of environmental damage is not just " true in the minds of some". There is real, scientific data about fracking and environmental problems. I'm not saying it cannot or should not be done, but perhaps with caution. Decisions about potential pollution problems are quite different from aesthetics as Maria said.
Adam Rossi January 09, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Upper St. Clair is actually one of the best townships we deal with regarding solar permitting. However, we haven’t asked to do anything that might be considered ugly and unacceptable to some (which could be equally aesthetically pleasing and beautiful to others), like say putting a ground mount in the front yard. From my understanding the proposed ordinance lays out all of the exact logistics of what is allowed (without going through zoning board hearings etc) and also attempts to fast track the process to some degree with only requiring what is necessary for a solar permit. Some townships that aren’t familiar with what to ask for on a solar permit make installers jump through way more costly hoops than necessary. I believe it will also outline a cost structure so there aren’t any surprises when you have a signed contract and the permit you expected to be ~$200 is $1,200. Here are some installs we’ve done in USC: http://www.adamsolarresources.com/projects/upperstclair.html http://www.adamsolarresources.com/projects/sunridge.html
Adam Rossi January 09, 2013 at 10:31 PM
Roger, I also agree with the ladies that environmental concerns for fracking pose a different argument and principle altogether. There is no truck traffic, noise, smells, air pollution, light pollution, or long term debated risks from solar panels. Townships deserve that right in my opinion to decide the levels of those issues they are comfortable with, not the state. In addition to sound construction practices, the real solar debate is simply aesthetics, in which beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
EIS Solar January 10, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Roger, Act 13 was the states attempt to overstep Municipal Rights by forcing the states will on the people. It is your township and should be your townships residents decision how drilling is handled. Not the state. The state does not have to weigh the risks of poisoned water, directly deal with the impact of dramatic increases in truck traffic clogging thoroughfares and damaging township maintained roads, the state does not have to look upon the wells dotting the landscape, it doesn't have to wonder if the 3 acre waste water storage ponds that will sit beside the well heads for the next 50+ years are leaking into their local streams and contaminating the water their kids play in and drink, the state doesn’t have to wonder if they will ever cleanup and remediate the ground next to their homes when they abandon the wells 50 years from now like the abandoned strip mines and oil rigs that dot our landscape today. I know I have three derelict oil wells between my house and my kid’s school 1 mile away, rusting abandoned eyesores that are a dangerous for my kids to be anywhere near. The big difference is that beyond aesthetics, solar affects no one other than the immediate property owner. Drilling affects the entire community. Whether you believe the hype from the environmentalists or the propaganda from the drilling company… Read more here: http://blog.eissolar.com/
B January 10, 2013 at 03:10 PM
Adam and Joe, Thanks for the insight into solar and the ordinance. It sounds like the ordinance is (for the most part) a good idea for the industry due to the ambiguity. Joe does mention that it could be easier and treat solar just like HVAC. Technically in USC, they do require permits for new HVAC and other accessories like that. I don't know what/if there are any major regulations around those rules. I am a proponent of solar, like others have said, the only downside is aesthetics and initial outlay of money. If the installers are saying this is good for the area then I will be in favor of the ordinance.
Hal Saville January 10, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Speaking as a member of the local solar business community, I'd like to try to shed some light on the model ordinance and its purpose. This ordinance and the collaborative process which involves over 20 municipalities in our region was intended to help grow the local solar industry and has involved us since its inception. In a perfect world, individual municipalities would be supportive of solar power on their own. The reality before the ordinance was that there was a hodge-podge of inconsistency across the region which made it more difficult to do business here. Some municipalities were very supportive, some luke-warm and some even less. Some hadn't addressed the issue at all and were paralyzed from even ruling or required variances and exceptions to even issue a building permit. Add to that widely varying fee structures, different inspection requirements, and it has been like doing business in 20 different countries.
Hal Saville January 10, 2013 at 03:56 PM
The model ordinance was developed as a template, a starting point to assist each municipality in the time consuming and potentially costly process of developing a comprehensive solar ordinance which both meets the needs of local government and the community it serves and also provides regional continuity which hopefully helps the local solar industry. The ordinance can be customized beyond this template to be more or less restrictive as that community desires, and this is where the discussion should be. If you want Upper St. Claire to be less restrictive toward solar, get involved and let your council know, or elect others who will better represent your position. The ordinance is the vehicle to get you to your solar future and better than none at all. And it is up to you as residents to determine how that vehicle operates and to determine its destination.

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