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Murrysville, Rostraver, Penn Township prepared to pass ordinances on solar panel use

| Sunday, March 17, 2013, 11:58 p.m.

Three Westmoreland County municipalities are preparing for the future of energy.

Officials in Murrysville and Rostraver and Penn townships hope that passing an ordinance addressing the use of solar panels will protect the interests of all residents.

“Our elected officials wanted to be proactive,” said Tamira Spedaliere, Rostraver Township planner.

The three municipalities recently passed letters of commitment and hope to craft their own ordinances with help from Penn Future, an environmental and public health advocacy group with four offices in the state.

That's only if Penn Future is awarded a federal grant through the Department of Energy's Sunshot Initiative, designed to make solar energy costs competitive with other forms of energy.

Murrysville, Rostraver and Penn, along with about 35 other municipalities statewide, have committed to putting time into officials' schedules to work with Penn Future consultants, said Evan Endres, Penn Future project coordinator. A significant amount of preparatory “legwork” is needed to apply for the grant, which is why letters of commitment are needed in advance, Endres explained.

If Penn Future is awarded the grant, municipalities will have assistance in creating their ordinances and making permitting processes consistent and streamlined, Endres said. A model ordinance was shared last year with municipalities in Allegheny and Beaver counties through a Sunshot grant.

“It's not about starting from scratch,” he said, adding that existing municipal regulations could be incorporated into the final product. “It is more about working with the municipality.”

A handful of residents in Murrysville and Penn Township have received permits for solar panels, according to officials there. No permits related to solar panels have been issued in Rostraver, Spedaliere said.

None of the three has ordinances specifically addressing solar panels.

Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison said an ordinance would protect residents who live next door to solar panels as well as those who are installing them. Officials expect panels to become more popular, he said.

Penn Township Manager Bruce Light said an ongoing overhaul of township ordinances made for “good timing” to include something specifically on solar panels.

“We just want to have the I's dotted and the T's crossed,” Light said. “There's a lot of things that need to be considered.”

The deadline to apply for the Department of Energy grant falls this month.

Endres said that if Penn Future does not receive funding, the organization may take other avenues to ensure municipalities receive aid.

An announcement is expected in May, Endres said.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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