Town eases process for residents to produce alternative energy

McCORDSVILLE — Officials from the town of McCordsville recently established a procedure in hopes of encouraging environmentally conscious residents and business owners to mount solar panels on their property — a trend they say is spreading to the community as new technology emerges.

The McCordsville Town Council recently passed an amendment to local regulations to allow residents and business owners throughout the community to build solar panels, provided the appearance of the array doesn’t detract from property values nearby.

Ryan Crum, director of the town’s planning department, proposed the change to the local ordinance several months ago after a resident inquired to see what options were available for mounting solar panels. At the time, there were no town rules in place.

Under the new rules, residents can mount solar panels on the back side of their home’s roof, facing away from the front of one’s property. Accessory equipment for the panels, including all cords and components, also must not be visible from the street.

Environmental activists have long applauded solar energy as one of the most accessible alternative energy sources. Despite a high upfront cost to purchase the equipment, solar power produces no carbon emissions and has little impact on surrounding land, unlike coal and nuclear production.

Business owners are permitted to mount solar panels only if the panels will be mounted on a flat roof and are screened from plain sight by walls that extend above the roofline, according to the new regulations.

Larry Longman, president of the McCordsville Town Council, points out that because of the restrictions, installing solar panels might not be practical for all residents.

Solar panel arrays are typically oriented toward the south to collect as much sunlight as possible, but that option isn’t available to all residents, Longman said.

Still, as electricity rates rise and the cost to purchase and install solar panel equipment drops, more residents will likely turn to solar energy as a means of saving money and decreasing one’s electrical consumption, Longman said.

In 2010, the average cost per kilowatt of energy statewide ran at about 7.7 cents; today, the average is about 10.5 cents per kilowatt and will likely continue to increase, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“We didn’t want to deter residents from looking into this type of emerging technology,” Longman said. “We thought this might start some momentum for people who want to look into these … options.”

Solar arrays are subject to private restrictions, such as neighborhood homeowners’ associations, and panel installations must still provide adequate access to roofs for emergency-responders.

Nick Hofmeister, a McCordsville resident who installed a 24-panel array on his home in 2010 — before such regulations were in place – said the move by town officials is an integral first step toward encouraging others to generate their own energy.

On average, Hofmeister’s array, which cost about $25,000 to purchase and install, covers about half of the energy costs for his home, he said.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.