EDITORIAL: Making sure solar panels are good neighbors

EDITORIAL: Making sure solar panels are good neighbors

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There was a time, decades ago, when almost every residence had a TV antenna affixed to its roof. That’s how we watched television back then, although we were limited to three or four channels.

Over time, large satellite dishes popped up in many people’s yards.

Now we see small Direct TV dishes attached to homes and garages as an alternative to cable television.

As far as we know, none of those technological advancements — which were often aesthetically displeasing — were subject to zoning code, although there may have been exceptions.

As technology advances and evolves, what is acceptable from aesthetic and practical views has changed as well.

So while we don’t remember specific zoning regulations for TV antennas at the advent of the TV age, we do believe that standards should be established for solar panels.

This came to our attention after a Queensbury man brought a complaint to the Town Board that a neighbor had installed a large ground-supported solar panel measuring 50 feet long and 16 feet tall that hovered within 3 feet of his property line.

The neighbor called the large solar panel “obnoxious.”

Neighbor disputes are as old as time itself, and it’s why many communities and homeowners’ associations have so many rules.

In this case, there did not seem to be specific regulations in place regarding ground-mounted solar systems, although Queensbury officials are still looking into it.

Whether it is a gray area or an oversight, Queensbury has the opportunity to set the standard for clarity when it comes to what is permitted when installing solar panels.

Every community should be encouraging the use of solar energy by its residents because of the economic and environmental benefits while also establishing guidelines for its use. Homes and businesses with solar installations will have lower energy bills and decrease air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while reducing the use of fossil fuels. Using solar energy also creates new jobs for local installers. Nothing should be done to discourage this industry from further development.

Anyone who has ever engaged in a home expansion project, from adding a utility shed or gazebo to adding an addition to their house, knows the extent of regulation in place when it comes to being a good neighbor. It can be a pain, but it is important to have those guidelines.

The American Planning Association recommends the development of those standards when it comes to solar panels as well.

It pointed out in a recent report that some communities encourage rooftop over ground-mounted systems and often require rooftop panels to be located on side roofs, or rear roof slopes rather than facing the street. Some communities also limit the height that rooftop panels may extend above the roofline.

Some communities have gone as far as to make sure that solar panels are not shaded from the sun by neighbors while also addressing the appearance of the panels, requiring neutral paint colors and screening of non-panel system components.

For ground-mounted systems, many communities restrict panels to side or rear-yard use and sometimes require screening from public view.

We feel the need to add that no regulations should be so egregious as to reduce the potential use of solar energy by local consumers, but common-sense guidelines that make it easy for homeowners to interpret what they can and cannot do when considering installation should be in place. Referring back to the Robert Frost poem that “good fences make good neighbors,” we are reminded that Frost meant just the opposite, and that boundaries tend to separate and alienate us from each other.

We’d like to see the adoption of solar energy as a way to bring us together instead of tearing us apart, and that is the challenge local communities face.

Post-Star editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Interim Publisher Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representatives Jean Aurilio, Connie Bosse and Barbara Sealy.

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