WEST ONEONTA _ Solar energy installers say they are encountering red tape in the town of Oneonta and some other area communities.
An Otego man involved with a new energy company lobbied the town board Tuesday and asked that the permitting process for solar energy installations be simplified.
Roberto Romano of Equity Energy, a small firm founded last year, said the town's requirement of special-use permits for the installation of both thermal and photovoltaic solar systems is outdated.
"It creates a tremendous amount of difficulty for the installer," Romano said Friday.
Romano said his firm is planning an installation of solar thermal panels at an Oneonta home but had to tell the homeowner there would be a wait of two months while a special-use permit is obtained from the town. That process involves an application and a public hearing.
"That might not be a deal killer, but it certainly puts a strain on the process," Romano said.
Town Supervisor Robert Wood said he sympathizes with Romano and said his testimonial opened the eyes of some on the board.
"The town board will take a look at it," Wood said Friday.
Wood said he is familiar with Romano's situation.
"I ran into it. I did a solar installation myself two years ago," he said.
The town's zoning code dates back decades and to a time when solar power was an emerging technology.
"So many (installations) were ugly," Wood said.
Public hearings were likely required so that neighbors would have a chance to object if a planned installation would make the neighborhood unsightly, he said.
"It's antiquated," Wood said of the zoning code. "The technology has changed so much."
Any changes to the code would involve public hearings and take a minimum of two to three months, Wood said.
If the code is changed, it would likely be late this year and outside the normal construction season, he said
But it would not be a good idea to remove all oversight, Wood said.
"Without adequate oversight you could end up with poor installations," Wood said.
The town code enforcement officer should be able to handle a permitting process within that office, he said.
What Romano experienced is not unique, Diane Antaya of Great Brook Solar in New Berlin said.
Great Brook Solar, which has seven employees, is in its 34th
see solar on page A4
year, and Antaya says the company encounters everything from towns with no permitting process to highly regulated and expensive bureaucracies.
"The permitting process is different from every town to every county," Antaya said Friday. "It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy."
A current project in Utica involves a historic review that costs $150, a $250 application to the Planning Board and a $696 building permit. A project in Waterville did not require any permits, Antaya said.
A special-use permit process can stretch for two to three months, she said.
"It's not unusual in certain places, and I do know Oneonta is one of those places," Antaya said. "It could easily take three months."
A standard process throughout the state would be ideal, Antaya said.
But having a process that runs only through the code enforcement office might be a good solution, at least for the town of Oneonta, she said.
Romano also said that might be a good solution.
Both Romano and Antaya said interest in renewable energy remains strong.