Clarkson Valley solar project fair to partly cloudy

February 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

A Clarkson Valley couple’s plan to install solar panels on their
home is generating heat among residents.

Some neighbors of Jim and Frances Babb in the Kehrs Mill Estates
subdivision fear the kind of precedent new city laws allowing the
panels will set.

And they worry about possible effects on their own property
values, especially down the line, should owners of homes on lots
smaller than the Babbs’ almost five acres decide to install the
energy-saving technology.

But the Babbs said evidence nationwide shows such panels can
increase their own and neighbors’ property values.

The Babbs tried to allay neighbors fears during a hearing on
Feb. 2 on a special use permit before the city’s planning and
zoning commission. The commission, with only Jerry Litschgi
opposed, recommended to aldermen that the Babbs’ permit be

Litschgi said city solar panel laws need to be further reviewed
to consider aesthetics, property values, and the opinions of
everyone in a subdivision where panels are proposed. He also said
the new laws made the commission’s role in the permit process
unclear because the panels are not a special use.

The commission also recommended, by a vote of 3 to 2 with
Litschgi and Gregg Bogosian opposed, that the Board of Aldermen ask
the Babbs to install more of the panels on the ground.

Original plans were for all 100 black solar panels to be on the
roofs of the Babbs’ home and garage on Kehrsdale Court.

However, the couple now is asking for only 52 panels to be on
the roof to meet roof access needs in the fire code. The remaining
48 would be ground-mounted in the western side yard. The Babbs also
are asking for three exceptions to the solar laws, affecting roof

A final vote on the Babbs’ permit is set for Tuesday, Feb. 7,
before the Board of Aldermen.

Aldermen gave final approval last month to two laws that amended
the city building code and allowed solar energy systems to be
regulated and approved under a special use permit process.

Jim Babb said the solar system should generate about 80 percent
of the electricity his home used last year and might generate a
little excess output that could be purchased by AmerenUE, such as
is being done with the Babbs’ other home at the Lake of the

The Babbs expect to pay $10,000 for installation of the $70,000
system, with much of the cost offset by their own labor as well as
AmerenUE’s solar energy rebates and various tax and renewable
energy credits.

Jim Babb expects about $5,100 a year in electrical savings.

Babb told the commission that the more panels they move to the
ground, the more expensive the solar system will be because of the
need for more underground wiring and tree cutting. As of now, 15
trees must be cut down.

Dennis Norton, who also lives on Kehrsdale, said the panels will
enhance the value of the Babbs’ property.

“But the issue is that the value of our property may be degraded
by looking at panels that might not be aesthetically appealing,” he

He supports having more panels on the ground out of sight.

“The Babbs’ panels will be minimally invasive, but my concern is
the city ordinances fail to deal with issues important to
homeowners like the effect on the value of our property.”

Andrew Barnett and his wife, Ellen, who live next door, were
worried about the view. Barnett said trees shouldn’t be considered
a permanent barrier, since they can die or come down in a

“Solar panels are a progressive idea but I’m concerned on the
precedent being set,” he said. “The Babbs’ home is unique, but good
luck hiding 100 panels on any other home. This is an ambitious
first step for solar energy in Clarkson Valley.”

Ellen Barnett called the Babbs’ project “unusually large.”

“And I’m concerned our property values could be affected by the
panels deteriorating over time,” she said.

Robert Meckfessel, who lives in Forest Hills Club Estates
subdivision, feared that, “while the Babbs have done an excellent
job to make this thing palatable, they’re opening the barn door,
and it’ll be hard to stop the momentum.”

“How do you approve one and not the next?” he asked.

However, Holly Mathis, a Kehrs Mill Estates resident, called the
project “very forward thinking, the wave of the future, and we’d be
shortsighted to bring down a good idea.”

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