After allowing solar panel installation with little oversight – only an electrical inspection in most cases – Southampton Town approached a new regulatory initiative from the Long Island Power Authority with trepidation.
Municipalities who adopt LIPA’s proposed new solar panel permitting law, which requires a roof inspection and a certified drawing by an architect or engineer, by Dec. 31 receive $15,000 from LIPA, said town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski last week. The LIPA initiative aims to make the 113 different solar panel permitting processes across the Island uniform, said R. Sail Van Nostrand, the chairman of the Long Island Solar Energies Industry Association. His association supports the legislation.
The Suffolk County Planning Commission also played a major role in drafting the permitting process, said the commission's chairman, David Calone, in an email.
“The process moves quickly and is not punitive,” Graboski said. Under the “fast track” provision of the new law, some solar panel applications could be approved in as little as 14 days.
But, town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst expressed concern that the new law means more costs and red tape, dissuading homeowners from installing solar panels. One of Southampton’s accomplishments has been taking the regulatory burden out of solar panel installation, Councilman Chris Nuzzi said.
The board voted to keep the discussion on the permitting process open until their meeting Dec. 13, while Graboski tabled a resolution to enact the legislation.
The town building department has inspected 256 solar panel installations on homes in Southampton Town since January 2009, said Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa.
Building permits are only necessary if the panels are installed at an angle above the roof, Benincasa said. That type of installation could catch the wind and blow off, he said. He has never heard of panels that lie flush against the roof blowing away, he said.
Benincasa said he did not have a strong feeling either way about the proposed legislation, but said it could create more paperwork for his staff. He added that the only way he can accurately certify if panels are installed correctly is if he or his staff is present to see they are bolted into the roof’s rafters.
The law also mandates the creation of a central registry of all homes with solar panels for first responders. Van Nostrand said that most firefighters’ first move is to ventilate the roof. But, a solar panel system could get in the way, he said.
The new LIPA law would also require homeowners to affix warning labels stating the residence has solar panels on utility meters, he said.