ShareThis Page

Officials create rules for residents who want to harness solar energy in Richland

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Paul and Lena Lyle’s solar energy system at their Richland home.

Richland officials recently enacted rules for property owners who want to harness sunlight to heat and otherwise power their homes and businesses.

The new guidelines regulate the installation of solar energy systems as accessory uses in all Richland zoning districts.

“These (rules) are just for an accessory (use) — not to build a power plant,” said Charles Means, solicitor for Richland Township.

Richland supervisors unanimously approved the regulations after a Nov. 6 public hearing.

No one spoke in support or opposition to the ordinance, which amends Richland's zoning code.

Property owners now must get permission to install a solar energy system.

“You need a permit. You can't just say, ‘I think I'd like to have one,'” Means said.

The township's zoning department will process and issue permits, said Dean Bastianini, township manager.

Chatham University, which plans to use solar power on its Eden Hall campus in Richland, is among expected applicants for such permits.

The new ordinance sets forth rules for both ground-mounted and building-mounted solar energy systems.

Ground-mounted systems must meet the same setback requirements that apply to structures served by the systems.

“If the setback requirement is 10 feet, you can't put it (a solar energy system) any closer than 10 feet from the property line,” Means said. “If you're going to stick it in your front yard, in front of your house, then you have extra restrictions.

“You have to show that you've made an effort to screen this thing with either plants, or a wall, or landscaping, so you don't have 50 foot of glass panels sticking up in your front yard.”

Solar energy systems mounted on buildings “shall be permitted to extend up to six feet above the roof,” states the ordinance.

The ordinance sets 4-foot and 8-foot height limits for ground-mounted solar energy systems, depending on whether panels are installed at the rear or front of a principal structure.

“If you want to put panels on the ground, you have a height limit you have to worry about,” Means said.

The new ordinance prohibits advertising on solar panels.

“You can't put signs on these things,” Means said. “They're not supposed to be billboards.”

Means helped draft a model ordinance on solar panel installations for use by other Pennsylvania municipalities, as part of a project administered by the nonprofit PennFuture Energy Center.

“This was revised to work here in Richland,” Means said.

Richland enacted the ordinance “to avoid what's going on in other places, where there are arguments, debates and controversies because there is no set of rules and nobody knows what the rules are,” Means said.

“Now we have a set of rules and people can follow them with some confidence.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.