August 7, 2013

Alton mulls restrictions on turbines, solar

By LINDA N. WELLER The Telegraph | August 7, 2013 |

ALTON – Members of the Alton Plan Commission delayed voting on setting restrictions on solar panels and wind turbines Tuesday until they could obtain more information about the systems.

By unanimous vote, the committee of 10 citizens voted to lay over the issue until another meeting where knowledgeable visitors could speak to their concerns and describe various types of renewable energy systems.

Virginia Woulfe-Beile, of the Sierra Club-Piasa Palisades Group, offered to bring in knowledgeable people to a future meeting to discuss the equipment.

“I am happy this meeting is happening and you are talking about clean energy solutions in the city of Alton,” she said. “I understand your concerns. A lot of new technology addresses your concerns.”

The issue arose in part because of the city being named a Clean City. Also, the Illinois Power Agency Act will require 25 percent of energy for electricity must be from renewable energy sources by 2025, said Matt Asselmeier, deputy director of development and housing.

“There are no uniform regulations on size, location of solar panels or wind turbines” in the city, said Asselmeier, who brought the matter to the commission on behalf of the Climate Protection and Energy Efficiency Committee.

The committee spent several months researching and refining the proposal, he said.

Asselmeier said both the Appearance Review and Historical commissions already have studied and discussed the proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance, which are based on ordinances in Naperville, Caseyville and Schaumburg, all in Illinois.

City inspector Doug Waggoner helped with the research, he said.

“Every effort was made to accommodate birds, bats and snakes,” he said about the turbine portion of the proposal, which sparked little discussion or review.

What drew the most questions and opinions was the height portion of the proposal, which would allow a building-mounted, small solar energy system to be posted up to 5 feet above the peak roof height, or above the maximum permitted height of a district, whichever is less. A free-standing small energy system could be 12 feet tall.

“It should be 5 inches instead of 5 feet,” Commissioner Anne Doucleff said. “They look bad enough. I would rather go more conservative” until someone convinces the commission that the ordinance should be adjusted.

Commissioner Terry Dooley, though, said if the city is too restrictive about the panels, it might discourage home sales in Alton.

Commissioner Bill Stoutenborough said the height should be different for commercial and residential structures.

“With residential, they should be flat on the roof,” he said. “The roof should be designed to hold a solar panel. I see a 5-foot panel elevation in a commercial area as being satisfactory. In a residential area, no.”

The proposed ordinance is seven pages long. Among its provisions is a ban on large wind energy systems; requiring a city building permit for installation of any renewable energy system, and it must comply with city building and safety codes; the plans must be prepared, signed and sealed by an Illinois licensed design professional; small, freestanding solar energy systems only would be allowed in back yards; and building-mounted small wind energy systems would have to be securely mounted to the roof of a principal structure, and located at least 2 feet from a public sidewalk.

The commission did not set a date for the meeting at which the proposal would be reviewed.

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