Hopes for Solar Energy Installations

I am sending the following information to the Planning Board members as they consider revisions to the Lyme Zoning Ordinance to regulate renewable energy such as solar panels. It is also posted to my blog: https://richb-lyme.com

In light of the Town’s overwhelming approval at Town Meeting 2020 for the goal of 100% reliance on renewable energy by 2030, with heating and transportation by 2050, and the urgency expressed in the proposed Energy Chapter for the Master Plan [1], I want to ensure that any rules we create actually solve problems for Lyme residents.

In particular, I want to avoid the situation where rules limit the size of solar arrays to the point that they don’t meet the needs of the families who wish to install them. Consequently, I advocate that any rules regarding “residential solar energy”:

  • Acknowledge that climate change is an emergency
  • Ensure that zoning rules become “more permissive for the use of renewable energy sources” as cited in Recommendation #2 of the Energy Chapter.
  • Permit an installation of solar panels that meet at least 100% of needs of a residence
  • Encourage roof-mount systems but permit ground-mount arrays as a matter of right
  • With an eye toward the practical characteristics of typical solar arrays (below)…
  • Modify dimensional controls such as lot coverage, footprint, and other constraints to allow this use
  • Enable those parcels with a wide southern exposure to install solar arrays. Some parcels may not work, but the zoning rules should not be the limiting factor
  • Ensure that other requirements, such as conservation overlays, screening, or visual impact do not trump a homeowner’s right to install solar panels

I look forward to discussing this at the upcoming Public Hearing for the Energy Chapter, 9 September 2021. The meeting is at 7:00pm in the Town Offices. (Note: an earlier version posted the wrong date.)

Rich Brown

Practical Characteristics of Solar Panels

In previous meetings, I didn’t feel I had a good grasp of what a realistic solar installation might “look like”. I collected the information below from the Model Solar Zoning Ordinance for NH [2] and discussions with a regional solar installation company [3].

  • Average homes today are installing 6-7 kW arrays. These panels may fit on a roof, or may need a ground mount. If the latter, they would occupy roughly 350 square feet, with a height of 7-9 feet.
  • Solar installers currently see a demand for larger (10-15kW) arrays for homes that require additional capacity for heat pumps and electric vehicles. Those solar panels will almost certainly not fit on a roof, so the footprint to accommodate these could be two or three times (700 to 1,000 square feet, again about 7-9 feet tall.)
  • Solar arrays today cost roughly $3/Watt fully installed. A 7kW array would cost $21,000; a 15kW array would cost $45,000.
  • The payback period for solar arrays is about 8-10 years. There is little financial incentive for anyone to massively overbuild residential solar panels.
  • For scale, two parking spaces for cars (usually 10×20 feet for each car, or 400 square feet total) is a little larger than an “average home solar array”
  • A typical two-car garage is 400sf (20×20 feet), and about 15-20 feet tall, larger than a typical 6-7 kW ground-mount array.

[1] Proposed Energy Chapter for the Lyme Master Plan – https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/energy.chpt_.masterplan.final_.06.2.2021.pdf

[2] Model Solar Zoning Ordinance for NH: https://2aea07fd-ae17-4f19-8c1e-aa11bccfcdc2.filesusr.com/ugd/c6c29c_c3f6d0279dfe4037bfb95bfa28b041e5.pdf

[3] Personal correspondence, Kim Quirk, ReVision Energy, Enfield

Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public body, such as the Lyme Planning Board, Budget Committee, or Trustees of the Trust Funds where I volunteer. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

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