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Proposed solar panel ordinance public hearing set in Hampton

| Friday, June 1, 2018, 2:34 p.m.

Hampton Township Council is setting July 11 as a date for a public hearing regarding an upcoming proposed solar panel ordinance, according to a decision at the May 23 voting meeting.

Discussion regarding solar panel usage was held at the council's annual Strategic Planning meeting held in April.

Local fire departments have raised a concern of where the panels are being located on roofs. They noted that solar panel manufacturers want to cover the entire roof, but fire departments could possibly need to cut a hole in the roof during a fire. Brian Hilliard, chief of the Hampton VFD No. 1, said this causes an issue.

“It's a concern due to the fact you (have to be) able to shut the electric off going through the panels and it becomes a big issue when trying to ventilate the roof,” said Hilliard.

He said the panels may be in the way with electricity most likely running through them. In order to properly ventilate a roof, a firefighter would have to go where the panels are located and cut through them, he said.

Currently, there aren't any township regulations regarding solar panels in place, said Christopher Lochner, municipal manager for the township. In the past, building permits were issued “but only in regard to the structural soundness of the roof,” he said.

Chief John Schwend of North Hampton VFD said they have not had any instances yet where solar panels had caused a problem, but it's best to be proactive.

“As you can see, solar panels are becoming more common on residential structures and it is important that we try to prevent any situations where they may be problematic in the future,” said Schwend.

His concerns were similar to Hilliard's.

“The main concern for firefighter safety is roof access for vertical ventilation operations. Vertical ventilation is necessary in order to relieve heat and smoke from structures that are on fire and is vital to firefighter safety as they work in the structure to extinguish the fire. If an entire roof for example is covered with solar panels there would be no way to vertically ventilate,” said Schwend.

Also, he said it's important that firefighters have access to the ridge and eaves of the structure. They suggest pathways are provided between the arrays of solar panels and that a clear distance from the gutter line and ridge be clear for access.

Though they are not aware of how many homes have solar panels on them, Lochner said they are becoming more and more noticeable.

“As such, the township believes it is time that we put legislation in place in order to protect public safety,” said Lochner. “The safety of the property owner and firefighters is the impetus behind the proposed legislation. How installation takes place as well as the number of solar panels permitted is what we are targeting.”

Residents can comment regarding the proposed ordinance at the public hearing, when its details will also be presented.

The current draft of this ordinance would include both residential and commercial solar panels locations, according to Martin Orban, zoning officer for Hampton.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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