As businesses and homeowners become more interested in taking part in solar-power projects, municipalities need to be ready to help them get started — and establish rules regarding how solar panels should, and should not, be displayed.
Auburn recently amended its zoning rules so as to regulate roof-mounted solar panels and prohibit homeowners from constructing solar arrays on the ground, the idea being that the neighbors might not appreciate having to look at them. At the same time, the city paved the way for a potential large-scale solar project near the landfill that might one day provide discounted electricity to residents.
The Town of Sennett made a similar move last month when its zoning board of appeals approved a special permit for a proposed 35-acre solar array on land at the county's Natural Resource Center on County House Road.
Auburn doesn't currently have a plan on the table, and the Sennett project is still awaiting the results of a feasibility study and leasing and purchasing agreements with the company that might be doing the work. But moving forward now will be necessary for any project to be approved in the future.
We're not suggesting that every homeowner needs to make the move to solar nor every municipality begin seeking out spots for massive arrays of panels. Projects need to be evaluated on their individual merits and their likelihood of long-term success, but setting the groundwork for local parameters is a smart thing to do ahead of time.
Zoning should be a forward-looking process rather than a reactionary one. Deciding how and where solar panels fit, or don't fit, within a particular community is a conversation to have sooner rather than later.
The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.