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New York adopts less restrictive rules for home solar use

John Ferro, Poughkeepsie Journal 5:08 p.m. EST March 10, 2016

New building codes met with praise from firefighters, solar industry officials

The state has adopted new limits on roof space for solar panels.

But the new rules are less restrictive than originally proposed and will not undermine the value of solar for most homeowners, according to industry officials.

The state had proposed building codesrequiring solar panels be placed at least 3 feet from the edge of any part of a roof in order to facilitate access for firefighters.

The regulations adopted Wednesday by the state Fire Prevention and Building Code Council call for a 3-foot border on an opposing roof slope — often a north-facing side where panels typically are not installed — so long as that side has adequate access points.

The revisions came after the Poughkeepsie Journal reported in January that the state’s recommendations were based on national standards that had been published in error.

The state’s rules supersede more restrictive building codes previously adopted by any locality, including those in the Town of Poughkeepsie, according to state Department of State spokesman Laz Benitez.

Solar companies and industry advocates argued a 3-foot border would have reduced the available roof space statewide by 40 percent or more. Many installations would no longer be economically viable at a time when Gov. Andrew Cuomo has mandated 50 percent of New York’s energy come from renewables by 2030.

The new regulations require only an 18-inch pathway below the roof ridge on the side with solar panels, half of what was originally proposed.

In effect, the newly adopted codes allow solar panels from roof edge to roof edge on one side and no closer than 18 inches to the ridge.

Bill Doughman, a volunteer firefighter in Ulster County and a leader of state-sponsored solar training programs for firefighters and other first-responders, said the rules strike a good balance between firefighters’ needs and those of the industry.

“They make sense,” Doughman said.

Doughman said the new codes still allow for unfettered access to the roof ridge for venting, which is important “because heat rises.”

In a statement, the New York Solar Energy Industries Association said the changes were “reasonable” and would provide “valuable and discernible” uniformity across the industry.

“It also provides an essential platform for ongoing collaboration between the industry and our emergency response providers throughout the state,” NYSEIA Program Manager Mary Bartlett said.

Jeff Irish, president of Rhinebeck-based Hudson Solar, praised the state’s decision.

“It’s wonderful,” Irish said. “I am glad they spent the time to listen to the industry and think it through.”

Irish said the Journal’s reporting was cited by industry officials during the state’s public comment period.

In the mid-Hudson Valley, the towns of Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and Wallkill had previously adopted rules requiring larger setbacks.

Localities can still petition the state Code Council to adopt a more restrictive local standard, Benitez said.

Town of Poughkeepsie Supervisor Todd Tancredi said the town needed to review the new rules before making a determination how to proceed.

John Ferro: 845-437-4816; jferro@poughkeepsiejournal.com; Twitter: @PoJoEnviro

Posted in General, Hudson Solar, News.