Southampton Mulls Ground-Mounted Solar Panels, Energy Conservation Code

Ground-mounted solar panels can be a good solution for homeowners whose roof has too much shade for solar power.
Ground-mounted solar panels can be a good solution for homeowners whose roof has too much shade for solar power.

Southampton Town is considering a new renewable energy proposal that would allow people whose homes are not ideal for solar panels to instead place those solar panels on the ground or on an accessory building on their property.

A proposed code amendment, available online here, would allow ground-mounted solar energy systems of no more than 5 kW and no more than 4,500 square feet to be exempt from clearing restrictions on residential lots, up to 20 percent of the property.

Roof-mounted panels would also be permitted as an accessory use on permitted buildings on a property, provided they meet height and aesthetic requirements.

The town board has held three public hearings on the proposal and has received generally positive feedback, but tabled a resolution adopting the code change at their Sept. 13 meeting due to some concern about the requirement that the inverters associated with the projects be placed inside structures.

Councilman John Bouvier, who has been active in shepherding this legislation through the approval process, said he recently heard from a constituent who works in the solar industry, who believes placing the inverters inside structures wouldn’t be cost-effective or an ideal setup.

That section of the code change was designed to protect neighbors from the aesthetic implications of external inverters, which Mr. Bouvier said are about the same size as an electric meter and “keep getting smaller.”

The board is drafting an amendment to the proposed code that would address the change, adding language that the preferred location of the inverters would be inside, when feasible.

Town Chief Building Inspector Mike Benincasa would be charged with determining when inside placement would be feasible.

Assistant Town Attorney Kathryn Garvin recommended the amendment be added and the code change be re-noticed for a new public hearing.

Greener Buildings Still

Also at Southampton’s Sept. 13 meeting, the board heard a proposal from Ms. Garvin and Mr. Benincasa to up the town’s residential energy rating requirements, which were among the best in the country when first drafted in 2008 but now lag behind state building codes adopted this spring that go into effect this October.

The proposal is based on a number classification system in which each point equals a percentage more efficient.

Currently, the town requires houses under 3,500 square feet to have an energy rating of 70 — 16 percent less efficient than the state standard of 54 points. Houses between 3,501 and 4,500 square feet would also have to meet the state standard of 54 points, 11 percent more efficient than town code allows now.

For larger homes, presumably built by people who can afford the added energy efficiency measures, the town plans to exceed the state standard even farther.

Southampton currently requires homes between 4,501 square feet and 6,000 square feet to meet the standard of 50 points, four points below the state requirements, but Mr. Benincasa suggested the town push that further down to 35 points, the same standard the town currently mandates for homes over 6,000 square feet.

Mr. Benincasa said he’d run the proposal by the Long Island Builders Institute, and received favorable feedback.

“The builders said ‘it makes since and we’re with you on it,'” he said. “In 2008, it was a hard push with those fellows and they bought into it, so I want to thank them for their support. They helped us stay on the cutting edge of home energy conservation.”

The board tabled the public hearing after no one weighed in on the proposal, but did not vote on the adoption of the changes.

 

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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