State College

College Township looks at solar energy systems

Council discussed an solar energy systems ordinance Thursday that could allow building- and ground-mounted systems in the township before remanding the ordinance back to the planning commission for further review.

The ordinance would allow solar energy systems to be installed as an accessory use in all districts except R-1 single-family and village zoning districts where only building-mounted systems are permitted, senior planner Mark Holdren said in a memo to the township. Primary-use systems, such as solar farms, would be permitted in the general industrial district.

Ground mounts would also not be allowed on any single-family lots less than 1 acre, he said.

Holdren told the council that the ordinance had been discussed by the planning commission on “a handful of occasions,” working with Penn State with the potential implications for their solar energy system on their property.

College Township defines a solar energy system as “an energy system that converts solar energy into useable thermal, mechanical, chemical or electrical energy.”

The ordinance defines a solar energy system as “an energy system that converts solar energy into useable thermal, mechanical, chemical or electrical energy.” Self-contained solar systems, such as those found on light poles or signs, are already permitted in the township.

The ordinance also included height restrictions, Holdren said, including up to 15 feet for free standing accessory units in residential areas and 20 feet in industrial areas. Primary use systems in industrial areas could be permitted to exceed 45 feet.

Solar glare was extensively discussed by the commission, he said, saying that while panels are manufactured to absorb light, there are instances where low angle panels will get glare during certain times of the year.

For a primary use system, he said, a glare study would be performed with a minimum threshold of 30 minutes of glare during the day on any given property. For an accessory use system, the applicant would have to demonstrate to the township that he or she has limited the glare to the greatest extent possible.

Penn State Physical Plant Assistant Vice President Steve Maruszewski thanked the council for considering the ordinance, saying that the university is looking to add more renewable energy to minimize its impact on the environment. While Penn State would like to add more solar power, to date it has not been cost effective.

With the cost coming down, he said, the next step is a viable zoning ordinance. The university is studying the campus, looking at possible ground- and building-mounted options.

Some residents and small-business owners said the ordinance still needed some work, however. Jason Grottini, of Envinity Inc., expressed his desire for ordinance improvements.

It’s a great ordinance for the Penn State Universities of the world. It’s not a great ordinance for the Joe and Jane Homeowners of the world.

Jason Grottini, Harris Township

“It’s a great ordinance for the Penn State Universities of the world,” he said. “It’s not a great ordinance for the Joe and Jane Homeowners of the world.”

Grottini, who said he’s in the business of installing solar energy systems, said he’s installed plenty of systems on 1 acre or less, adding if the applicant can prove glare won’t be an issue, mounts should be allowed on the smaller lots.

“You’re restricting ground mounts in R-1 zones when R-1 are the only ones who can afford solar in most cases,” he said. “If you’re allowing R-2 or R-3, that tends to be townhouses or multi-family establishments. Those folks aren’t installing or asking for solar.”

Other residents agreed with Grottini’s comments, including Redstone Renewable Energy proprieter Mike Rybacki. According to Rybacki, residents with smaller sized lots are looking to stretch the money they make and don’t have the roof space to handle a system.

College Township resident Jim Martin said he was surprised to hear that ground mounts were restricted in certain residential areas, saying the ordinance cuts off 50 percent of the potential customers.

Council unanimously voted to return the ordinance to the planning commission for adjustments, and the attendees who made comments were welcomed to the next planning commission meeting to speak their concerns again.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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