Recognizing the growing popularity of alternative energy, Scarborough officials are considering new zoning rules that would regulate personal solar panels and wind turbines.

“Both solar and and wind power are beginning to become more common energy sources,” said Town Manager Ron Owens. “More and more people are going to be interested in them … (We are) anticipating that at some point in time, someone is going to want to put up a windmill.”

The town doesn’t have any written rules about wind turbines and solar panels – a fact that came to a head last year when resident Laurence Gardner put up five free-standing solar panels in front of his residence at Grondin Pond.

The construction irked his neighbors, who were upset they hadn’t been informed of the planned construction and found the solar panels aesthetically disturbing.

Town officials, however, said there was nothing they could do. While the town has plenty of rules regarding houses, businesses, signs, and just about every other type of construction, it doesn’t have any rules about solar panels.

Owens said the decision to consider new zoning wasn’t prompted by Gardner’s solar panels specifically, but by “a desire to keep up with the future.”

“We don’t want to get into the position of saying, ‘No, you can’t have these,'” he said. “(We want) to try to make them as (aesthetically) friendly as possible.”

Cape Elizabeth is also looking at zoning ammendments that would allow the town to construct a windmill of up to 100 feet tall on town-owned property. Although the town planning board had originally recommended windmills also be permitted on residential property, Ordinance Committee members said in a Feb. 25 memo to the Town Council that they prefer “a more incremental approach to test the appropriateness of windmills” in town.

The Ordinance Committee has asked the Alternative Energy Committee to develop a plan to install a windmill on town property. Council members are expected to discuss the proposed ordinance at their next meeting, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara.

Personal solar-energy systems are becoming increasingly popular in Maine, according to Richard Fortier, program manager for the state’s solar rebate program. The program, which offers rebates to homeowners who install solar equipment, received 72 applications in January 2008, compared with 13 in January 2007, Fortier said.

Since its inception in 2005, the program has helped pay for 244 solar hot water systems, 19 hot air heating systems, and 63 solar electric systems, he said.

The most popular is a roughly 8-by-8-foot solar hot water system, which can be mounted on a rooftop or on the ground. Costs generally run in the $6,000 to $8,000 range.

The state is offering rebates of 30 percent, or $2,500, whichever is lower, for personal solar heating systems and 35 percent or $10,000, whichever is lower, for commercial ones.

Solar heating systems can be used to heat either household water or the air in the home itself.

The program for solar electric systems is out of money and will not be funded again until 2009.

Nationwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 12,561 watts’ worth of solar energy systems were shipped to customers in 1997; more than 206,000 watts were shipped in 2006, the most recent year for which records are available.

The Ordinance Committee, a subcommittee of the Town Council, will meet at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chamber A to discuss the proposed new zoning regulations.

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