Wind power, geothermal home-heating, and solar \u2014 ground mounted, pole mounted, roof mounted, and even wall mounted arrays\u2014 all went up for debate in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission at its March 19 public hearing.The hearing was an informal session for the commission to gather information as it plans new zoning rules to regulate solar panels and other alternative energy systems.How did the town get here?The commission\u2019s plan to regulate solar and other green energy systems stems from a fight before the Zoning Board of Appeals; which was brought by neighbors opposed to the construction of a ground-mounted array of solar panels that would serve a house being built on Canterbury Lane.In February, the Zoning Board of Appeals overturned the permit for the Canterbury Lane solar array \u2014 the metal frame that would support the solar arrays had already been built \u2014 which was granted by Richard Baldelli, the town\u2019s planning and zoning director.The ZBA ruled that the permit had been granted under the wrong set of regulations, as an outbuilding rather than as a \u201cother structure\u201d defined in a separate section.Since then, the Planning and Zoning Commission has amended its regulations to clarify that \u201caccessory structures\u201d are permitted uses in residential zones.The futureTuesday\u2019s hearing brought testimony from two experts brought forward by First Selectman Rudy Marconi, followed by public comment from the roughly 20 townspeople who turned up.Dwayne Escola was the first expert introduced to the commission. He suggested the commission is going to see a lot more cases of people building solar energy systems on their property within the next 10-20 years, as the nation transitions away from fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources.\u201cThat\u2019s kind of the goal,\u201d said Escola who, in addition to being a member of the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment (RACE), owns and operates a business that installs solar energy systems.\u201cThe big one that\u2019s going to to change \u2026 is heating and cooling,\u201d Escola said. \u201cNow our cooling typically is electrical, but our heating isn\u2019t, it\u2019s mostly oil.\u201dEscola said that may change in the near future, as Mitsubishi and other manufacturers of forced-air heating systems develop units that work in the frigid temperatures of the American Northeast.He calculated that the typical 3,000 square-foot home requires around 7,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year for lights and appliances, which would require about 550 square feet of solar panels.Zoning rulesCharles Vidich, a senior project manager with the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, was the second expert Marconi introduced. Vidich outlined some of the areas the commission might want to consider when it builds its alternative energy regulations.Out of 169 towns in the state, only 26 have included a definition of a solar energy system in their zoning regulations, he told the commission.\u201cThere are technically as many as four different types of solar energy\u201d systems, Vidich explained \u2014 ground mounted, roof-mounted (including arrays mounted on an angled or flat roof), pole mounted, and wall-mounted panels.Pole-mounted systems, which are often built to automatically track the course of the sun throughout the day are highly efficient, but can act as a sail during high winds, and therefore have to be anchored to the ground, Vidich said.Wall-mounted units are not typically used on residential homes, Vidich said.\u201cIt\u2019s important to distinguish between small and large use,\u201d he said.Small solar energy systems are those permitted for home use, whereas large systems are commercial, utility systems that supply power to the power grid.\u201cIs there a definition of when residential scale, and then at what point does it become industrial scale?\u201d asked Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti. \u201cBecause anything that someone doesn\u2019t want to look at is becoming industrial, even though it\u2019s not.\u201d\u201cFrom a zoning point of view, there is no agreed upon definition,\u201d said Vidich. \u201cIn terms of what the Connecticut Siting Council has, they\u2019ve got basically two-megawatts \u2014 and even less than that \u2014 which they can take responsibility for.\u201dWind, othersSolar wasn\u2019t the only type of energy discussed.\u201cWhat is the practicality of wind being used in a town like Ridgefield?\u201d asked Baldelli, the planning director.Vidich said windmills are typically considered only in remote towns with high elevations, because the towers can pose a risk if they ever fall down.The prospect of geothermal heating \u2014 pumping relatively warm air from holes drilled into the earth \u2014 also came up.Escola said installing those systems would also require more solar power, since the system runs on electricity.\u201cIt\u2019s similar to forced-air heat pumps, which many of us think of as more economical, because you don\u2019t have to drill all those holes,\u201d said Escola.Electric cars\u201cAnother huge change is going to be our transportation,\u201d said Escola.He calculated that if the homeowners replaced two gas-powered cars with plug-in cars, the home would need an additional 8,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or about 630 square feet of additional solar paneling.Commissioner John Katz asked if those panels would need to be replaced with upgraded, more efficient panels as solar technology improves.But Escola suggested the cost of doing so is prohibitive, and that the panels have a lengthy service life. \u201cSome of the panels put up in [President] Carter\u2019s era are still running in California,\u201d Escola said.\u201cSo\u2019s Carter,\u201d Katz added, to laughter from the audience.ShadeEscola said the main reason that homeowners will continue to install ground-mounted solar panels, versus roof-mounted panels, is shade from other buildings and trees. Shade from architectural features of the home as well \u2014 such as dormers \u2014 and the orientation of the roof can also mean a home won\u2019t get enough sunlight to make rooftop panels practical.\u201cIf your roof ridge goes north-south \u2026 you\u2019re down to 80%, that\u2019s a huge drop,\u201d Escola pointed out.The RACE member said the weight of the panels is not usually an issue. While he has a structural engineer check each house when he installs roof-mounted panels, the panels weigh about the same as a second layer of shingles on the roof, he told the commission.AudienceCanterbury Lane resident Sanjay Tripathi, who lives next door to the solar-powered house and has led neighbor opposition to the panels, said the commission should consider a \u201cvariable setback,\u201d so that the higher a ground-mounted solar array is, the farther back from the property line it would have to be, as well as encouraging lower ground-mounted solar panels to make them easier to screen from view.\u201cThe point I want to make here is that I think what we do has to be in keeping with the neighborhood,\u201d said Tripathi. \u201cIf you look at most of the structures that have gone in, the 120 or so, they are generally 500-600 square feet, from my eyeballing of the information.\u201dHe mentioned that there are also solar shingles, panels that resemble traditional roofing materials that gather electricity from the sun\u2019s rays.But Escola said the shingles are not readily available on the open market, and are much less effective at converting sunlight into electrical current than traditional panels. \u201cEventually, we may have those as the standard method,\u201d he said.Kristin Quell, who chairs RACE, said solar shingles are not available to the public. \u201cI actually teach alternative energies and I teach solar panel installation with my students \u2014 we have a set but they are not available to the public.\u201dShe said the shingles would have to cover someone\u2019s whole roof, and even then would provide only around 75% of the home\u2019s electrical needs.Attorney Matt Mason, who represents the Ungers, the family building the solar home on Canterbury Lane, said his clients \u201care strong advocates of solar energy and renewable energy,\u201d and \u201cin favor of less regulation, more incentives\u201d for solar energy.\u201cEveryone\u2019s in favor of less regulation, until it\u2019s in their backyard,\u201d said Katz.