The Northampton Township Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night approved an ordinance that will regulate the construction of alternative and emerging energy systems in the township.
The new law, while encouraging wind turbines, solar energy panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems, will regulate the construction of what officials said could be “potentially intrusive facilities” in the township.
“If someone puts a solar panel in, it may work very well for that homeowner but there could be various problems with its looks or even with glare,” said supervisor George Komelasky. “These are the kinds of things that have been talked about and discussed for several months by the planning commission.”
The ordinance adopted this week adds regulations to the township’s zoning ordinance for the installation of the systems.
While the new law bans wood-fired burnersand essentially relegates wind turbines to the less dense R-1 zoning district, it eases traditional setback requirements for residents and businesses contemplating systems like solar panels, said Komelasky.
Without the ordinance, the turbines could have cropped up in high density neighborhoods and become a source of problems. And Komelasky said they can be “noisy and obtrusive.”
While solar panels would be permitted in every zoning district, they are restricted to behind the front façade of a building and no systems would be permitted in the front yard. Panels would also have to be designed and located in order to minimize sun glare toward an occupied home.
“This is something that’s really needed,” said supervisor Eileen Silver. “In talking to people in our community, they want it. They want to know what is going to be good for their neighbors. They don’t want to put something up where they’re going to have a lawsuit against them.”
Supervisor Frank Rothermel agreed. “You try to reach a balance. You want to promote alternative energy. On the other hand you don’t want a situation where someone is going to put a wind tower in their front yard next to your house.”
He said the township planners, in putting together the ordinance, “were very thoughtful in the setback requirements for the wind turbine,” noting that the requirements would preclude them from the R-2 zoning district “which is probably a good thing. It would be better for them to adapt to solar panels which are much less intrusive” and relegate the wind turbines to the less dense R-1 zoning district.
The ordinance would also require owners to consult with a qualified inspector every 12 months, but does not spell out how that would be enforced.
“I believe the intent was to make sure these things are working properly,” said township manager Robert Pellegrino.
It would also require owners to carry a $1 million insurance policy, which is standard in the industry.
Komelasky said the ordinance is in response to a growing number of applications in the township for alternative energy systems and issues being faced in other towns that have not addressed the use question.
Supervisor James Cunningham cast the only vote against the ordinance. While he agrees with some of the provisions in the ordinance to reduce the intrusive nature of some of these alternative energy systems, he said the ordinance still needs to be tweaked before receiving his vote.
Saying time is of the essence, Komelasky urged the board to pass the ordinance and consider tweaking it later.
“There are things happening and we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve on this as much as possible,” he said. “I know the administration has some concerns, so we will be looking at this further. But we need to get the basis set up and approved.”
Pellegrino said he has already seen about a dozen applications and expects to see more as time goes on. “We need to get something on the books,” he said.
“This is a good thing,” said board chairman Vince Deon of the ordinance. “It has to be tweaked, but it’s a good start.”
The township manager noted that anyone who already has a system in place will be grandfathered under the ordinance and will not have to comply with its provisions.
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