The has adopted stricter standards for permitting home solar energy systems, albeit with some board members expressing frustration that state law has forced their hands to vote for legislation that may make getting a solar system more complicated and cost prohibitive for some homeowners.
“It’s kind of a shame that we can’t let what’s not broke stay that way,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said at the board’s Dec. 22 meeting, when the final public hearing was held and the legislation passed 4-0.
The new standards require a building permit, instead of a simple electrical permit. Applicants will need to submit a certified drawing by a professional engineer or registered architect of where the panels will go, and an electrical diagram.
“All of the towns in Suffolk, except for East Hampton, have adopted this,” Assistant Town Attorney Katie Garvin said during the hearing. The standards were recommended under the Long Island Unified Solar Permitting Initiative, an effort by the planning commissions of Suffolk and Nassau counties and the Long Island Power Authority. But even if the board rejected the recommendation, the town would still need to comply with state law.
“We do need to require building permits for this, no matter what happens,” Garvin said.
Then-Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who sponsored the legislation before her term expired at the end of the year, said the standards create an expedited and more uniform permitting process.
“The process is going to change one way or another, because we cannot stick with this incredibly streamlined version of the process that we have now,” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said. “So if we don’t pass this, it’s going to become more onerous. This represents kind of an in between from the very expedited process that we have now to the full-blown building permit that would be required if we didn’t join the fast-track group.”
John Barrows, the president of the Long Island Green Homes Council, spoke out against the legislation, telling the town board that he wants the approval process to be streamlined to make it easier for people to recognize the benefits of photovoltaic energy, but he opposes the engineering requirements.
“The industry itself acknowledges that Southampton did have a simplified process,” Barrows said. But under the new legislation, he said, “it would add between $500 and $1,000 to the cost of putting photovoltaic on a house.”
Throne-Holst said she agreed with Barrows, and that hundreds of photovoltaic systems have been installed in Southampton under the existing process, in line with the town’s sustainability goals.
While Throne-Holst said she opposes adding red tape and cost to installing solar panels, she ultimately voted in favor of the legislation, along with all other present board members. Councilman Chris Nuzzi had to leave the meeting early and wasn’t present for the vote.