Commission discusses solar panel regulations

by Laura Bednar

April 24 zoning commission meeting

The Sagamore Hills Zoning Commission invited Jess Ennis, president of Sun Lion Energy, to discuss solar panel operation and regulations.

Ennis has been in the solar business for 11 years; his company designs and builds solar electric systems for residential and commercial structures. In both, Ennis said rooftop panels are more common than ground panels, with an average panel producing between 400 and 410 watts of energy. The panel size is generally 6-feet-by-3.5 feet. According to Ennis, an average solar setup produces 10 kilowatts of energy. A kilowatt is the amount of power the system generates. Kilowatt-hours are the amount of electricity generated.

In Hudson, where Sun Lion Energy is located, the city does not have a power limit on solar panels, but the municipal utility company does. The power generated can’t exceed the electric infrastructure of the home or business in question

Generating all the energy used would eliminate the cost of electricity produced by the electric company. Ennis explained that if more power is generated than used, it returns to the electric grid, which causes an electric meter to run backward until that energy is pulled out and used. This process is called net metering and must be approved by a resident’s electric company.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, “The electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods when the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. Customers are only billed for their ‘net’ energy use.”

In some municipalities, it is common practice to get approval from the architectural board of review before installing solar panels. Ennis said the panels his company installs are black for a sleek look and have a 25-year warranty. Panels are not extended past a roof peak and are installed on top of rails that sit a few inches off the roof.

Dwight Chasar, zoning commission vice chair, asked how much weight the panels add to the roof. Ennis said “less than two pounds per square foot,” adding that the type of roof material only affects the panel installation method.

The number of panels for a residence is customizable and depending on the size and power of the panels, ranges from $20,000-50,000, according to Ennis. He added that there are incentives available to promote solar panel installation, like a 30% federal tax credit.

Zoning Chair Dr. David Koncal asked if Sun Lion Energy installs an emergency shutoff for the system. Ennis said all systems require an outdoor emergency shutoff, usually located near a building’s electric meter for easy fire department access.

A 3- to 5-square foot inverter for a solar system is installed near the main service panel, typically in a home’s garage or basement. “There’s not much visible equipment,” said Ennis.

Township Attorney Jeff Snell explained that a section on solar panel easements in the Ohio Revised Code ensures a solar energy device has adequate access to sunlight. For example, a neighbor’s home or tree could block a solar panel system.

A permit from Summit County is required for a company or an individual to install a solar energy system, and a representative from the county inspects it after installation. The township has no authority to provide a permit.

The zoning commission asked township trustees for a six-month moratorium on solar panels. ∞