Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Solar Energy Systems

This morning, the Council adopted new definitions and protections for solar energy systems. The new ordinance provides much greater clarity for dealing with solar energy systems. It defines and sets standards for building mounted and freestanding solar systems and makes clear that solar access easements may be purchased by property owners. For the first time, it provides specific guidance to the Planning Commission that existing solar energy systems should be given special consideration if and when a proposed development would shadow them.

When this proposal came before committee, I moved to postpone it for two weeks so that we could get more input on the specifics and potentially make some tweaks to make it better. And sure enough, I believe we did. At committee this cycle, Council Member Lisa Goodman moved to raise the percentage of a residential lot that could be covered by a freestanding system from 3% to 5%. This means that for a standard 5,000 square foot city lot, the maximum allowable freestanding system went from 150 s.f. to 250 s.f. The committee also chose to completely do away with lot coverage maximums for commercial and industrial parcels. I believe that both of these amendments were major steps in the right direction.

Between committee and the full Council, my staff worked with solar advocates and City staff on an amendment that would clarify that "passive" solar systems would be included in the protections we're giving to other types of solar systems. These include systems that are specifically intended to capture and store direct solar heat, but are not broad enough to allow any window to be considered a "passive solar" system.

I think this ordinance marks significant progress towards a greener, more sustainable city. I want to thank those who worked on it: Jason Wittenberg in Planning, Gayle Prest in Sustainability, and Brian Ross, a member of the Environmental Advisory Committee and expert on solar energy policy. I also should note that this step forward was funded in part by a grant from the US Department of Energy's Solar America Cities.


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