Friday, November 12, 2010

County setting guidelines for solar-energy systems

Installation will require a permit


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Installing a home solar collector system might soon be easier, thanks to a pending county ordinance.

The ordinance, currently being amended by the Blaine County Commission, sets specific guidelines for residential solar power systems.

The ordinance would require installers of solar panels on existing buildings to get a newly developed solar permit and undergo an administrative review, regulations that don't exist in current county code.

Requiring a permit for solar collector systems would actually help the industry, said Billy Mann, owner of Ketchum-based Sagebrush Solar.

"Defining the permit would prevent poorly designed and poorly implemented systems from going in," Mann said.

Mann said he already gets a building permit for each of the solar collector systems his company installs, even though code is ambiguous on whether solar panels constitute a "structure." The problem is that building permit fees are set at 3.5 percent of the systems' value.

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"That can add two to three years to the payback," Mann said.

Commissioners and staff said they would be willing to set lower fees for solar permits, as less staff time would be spent inspecting such a system, as opposed to a building.

Mann said he is in full support of the ordinance, which he helped draft.

"It's more regulation, but it clarifies things," he said. "It's definitely the right thing to do."

The proposed ordinance limits the output of such systems to 24 kilowatts, meant to limit the systems' size. Systems may also be built in special zoning districts such as the Mountain Overlay and Scenic Highway Overlay districts.

The county will review the latest version of the ordinance during a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 30. Commission Chair Larry Schoen said he anticipates the board will pass the ordinance during that meeting.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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