Planners to write green energy regulations

Windmills, solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling — where they’re allowed to be located and how high; are some of the questions the Planning and Zoning Commission indicated Tuesday, March 26, that it hopes to answer, as it writes new regulations governing renewable energy systems.
The commission is handing the bulk of the work to Assistant Planner Daniel Robinson and Charles Vidich, a senior project manager with the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG).
Robinson asked the commission for some guidance on what the regulations should cover.
Commissioners said the regulations should include not just solar, but wind and geothermal heating and cooling systems as well.
Vice Chairman Joe Fossi said that systems in the front yard should require a special permit — which are issued by the commission after a vote.
He suggested renewable energy systems should be allowed in the back yard, but the commission should place a restriction on height. He was less certain about systems built in the side yard, since those can also impact a neighbor’s view.
“As far as screening goes, I think we have to be sensitive about that,” Fossi added. “The problem is that if it’s done by as of right, who’s going to decide what proper screening is?”
He recommended that a licensed landscape architect should be a requirement to ensure proper screening.
Commissioner George Hanlon said he would personally like to see solar panels restricted to the ground.
As for screening, he sounded less certain of the commission’s role; “If I don’t like my neighbor’s yard, then I put screening up.”
There is also the possibility that neighbors could plant fast-growing vegetation to screen their view of nearby panels, and in 10 years block the sun from reaching the panels, Hanlon pointed out.
Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli cautioned that the new regulations would take several months to write.
But the new rules may also serve as a model to other towns, he said.
“It appears that there may be no model regulation in Connecticut,” Baldelli told the commission, “and it appears that you might be creating it in working [with Robinson and Vidich].”