Wayne National Forest Solar Panel Construction, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Wayne National Forest’s photostream

Despite our region’s reputation as a bit overcast, we have vast untapped solar energy potential and a dedicated group of solar manufacturers and installers both small and large. However, Allegheny County is one of the most fractionalized governments in the country and, with well over 100 local governments with their own rules and regulations, it can be very difficult for these companies to market their solar panels and have them installed. This presents us with a great opportunity to work collaboratively with environmental organizations, labor unions, solar manufacturers and installers, and leaders from all of the County’s municipalities to find ways to standardize regulations for solar panels, while protecting the interests of residents.

1. Supporting Local Businesses and Creating Jobs

Lucky for us the statewide environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) is already hard at work to find common-sense ways to work with our neighbors to support the local businesses making and installing solar technologies. With funding from the EPA, PennFuture has been working to develop a model ordinance that could be adopted, voluntarily, by municipalities across the region.

We have a responsibility as the largest municipality in the region, to work with PennFuture to spearhead this effort and provide a level of comfort to our neighbors that we will work collaboratively with them to ensure that the entire region sees the benefits of solar manufacturing and installation. And these changes aren’t difficult to make.

Many of the changes we need are things as simple as allowing solar panels of a certain size as a use by right – something that is only absent from local codes because solar technology was not prevalent when they were written. These changes would save property owners money because solar installers would not have to pass on the costs of permitting to their customers, and they would save installers the hassle of having to apply for permits that really shouldn’t be necessary.

We have the opportunity here to create hundreds of new, good-paying manufacturing and engineering jobs right here in our backyard while improving our environment. It is a no-brainer.