When a former Secretary of State (George Shultz) and a Vice President (Al Gore) can’t seem to navigate local ordinances to install solar systems on their own homes, what are the chances for everyone else? 

These are two high profile examples cited in a recent report that discusses streamlining the local approval process for solar and small wind projects-  Taking the Red Tape Out of Green Power.  

After interviewing experts from around the Country regarding various local impediments, the study includes seven principle recommendations:

  1. Remove barriers to photovoltaics (PV) systems from building and zoning codes.
  2. Simplify PV permit application forms and review processes.
  3. Adopt flat permit fees or fee waivers for PV and small wind systems.
  4. Incorporate information about wind energy opportunities into municipal comprehensive planning.
  5. Establish small wind turbines as permitted uses, with appropriate design guidelines, performance standards, and review processes.
  6. Ease permitting processes by establishing statewide interconnection standards and educating building and electrical inspectors about proper installation procedures for distributed renewable energy systems.
  7. Adopt legislation at the state level mandating consistent and appropriate permitting requirements for distributed renewable energy systems.

A review of recent articles from around the Ohio shows zoning ordinances pertaining to solar and wind projects have become a hot topic.  Local governments would be wise to examine the study to determine ways to draft ordinances and administer local permit processes to encourage development of renewable energy projects. (See Dispatch:  "To avoid fights, set rules for windmills now")

Granvilledebate over allowing solar panels in a historic district.

Morrow County–  Established zoning ordinances governing utility scale wind projects, but local governments ignore standards for small scale wind project. 

Hamilton County Planning and Zoning OfficialsConsider an array of zoning regulations including restrictions on height, noise and placement for energy-generating windmills, solar panels and outdoor furnaces. Example regulations:

  • Windmills may not exceed 100 feet in height, cannot be in front or side yards, and their noise may not exceed 62 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. (roughly the volume of a conversation).
  • Solar panels on roofs may not be taller than the highest point of the roof. Detached solar panels may not exceed 14.5 feet.

Clermont County– Windmills and outdoor furnaces are lumped into the "accessories" category of the zoning code which means there is a 14-foot height limit without a permit.

City of Columbus-  According to an article appearing in Ohio Planner’s News (November/December 2006 Issue) discussed some Ohio zoning code application to solar and small wind turbine projects.

The City of Columbus staff recommends that the request for a solar installation be preceded by “preliminary zoning clearance review,” which is an official way of saying, “bring in your request and a map of the property.” According to the plans examiner, a solar installation would probably be handled under local code enforcement by your contractor (under the engineered systems section) and comply with the National Electric Code regulations per Article 690 Solar Photovoltaic Systems and Chapter 14 of the Ohio Mechanical Code.

The City of Columbus also states that, “A wind tower as a principal use on residentially zoned property does require a use variance (Council variance) because said use is not permitted in many districts. However, a wind tower as an accessory use to a principal dwelling may be permitted but most certainly is subject to specific development standards…” Notice the distinction between “principal use” (the only use for the property) and “accessory use” (a use that fulfills a need for the house) and the ability to avoid a variance. The distinction is critical for easy success in the hearing process.

For additional Resources:

Wind:  The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has a web site that goes state by state discussing various aspects of small wind projects.  The AWEA also has put together various resources to assist in permitting small wind projects as well as local policies to encourage their development.

Solar:  GE has a list of frequently asked questions about residential solar projects.  However, there is also plenty of information provided at the state level regarding residential solar project.  For example, the Ohio Department of Development also has made available resources for Ohioans interested in installing solar panels on their home, including the Ohio Consumer Guide to Buying a Solar Electric System.

See http://www.green-energy-efficient-homes.com/green-electricity.html for more information on green energy options for your home.



(Photo:  Great Valley Center Image Bank/everystockphoto.com)