State College

Public to weigh in on solar energy rule

A township rule regulating the installation and placement of solar panels is headed to a public hearing after a unanimous vote Thursday by the College Township Council.

Council discussed a solar energy systems ordinance in March that would allow installation as an accessory use in all districts except R-1 single-family and village zoning districts where only building-mounted systems are permitted.

Further discussions led to some changes in the rule, according to a memo to the council by senior planner Mark Holdren, including allowing ground-mounted solar energy systems as an accessory use in all districts. Also included in the memo were height restrictions for solar systems, restricting them to 15 feet in rural districts, 8 feet on residential lots and 20 feet if on top of a parking structure.

Holdren noted in the memo that previous versions of the ordinance “required a roof-mounted solar energy system to be set back at least 3 feet from the roof’s edge on at least three sides of the system” to provide room for the movement of firefighters. Staff noted several exceptions to this distance, and noted that Centre Region fire Director Steve Bair agreed to reduce the distance to 30 inches.

Councilwoman Carla Stilson said she was happy with how far the ordinance had come, but wished to see a 10-foot maximum height distance in residential zones to match the township’s existing regulation on the height of sheds.

Some residents, including members of the local solar energy industry, voiced their disagreement with the 30-inch requirement for rooftop systems, saying it was a restrictive design element. Redstone Renewable Energy owner Mike Rybacki argued that exceptions can be found in several municipal codes regulating solar energy systems, including if the roof setback is less than a 10 percent pitch.

Jason Grottini, of Envinity Inc., said the the ordinance doesn’t help grow the local industry.

“If you want to be able to promote renewable energy throughout the region, you need to think outside the box,” Grottini said.

Chairman Rich Francke said out of respect for the volunteer firefighters throughout the region, he was going to default to their recommendation.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 18.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews