Solar ‘aesthetics’ contested during Thomaston town hall

Solar ‘aesthetics’ contested during Thomaston town hall
(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

By Steven Keehner

The Thomaston Board of Trustees held a virtual Town Hall meeting Tuesday night to solicit public feedback on a prospective residential solar policy.

Thirty-six persons participated in the call as Thomaston resumed its solar energy discussion, which dates back to 2016.

Steven Weinberg, Thomaston’s mayor, described the event as “a prequel to get an idea of what we should draft.” 

Notably, the placement of panels, the types of panels and their closeness to the street were all examined.

“I think it’s unanimous that solar panels are the way of the future,” said Chair and Member of the Design Review Board Glen Wilson. “The point of the meeting is to get public consensus about how they should be regulated and in my opinion as a taxpayer, not as a board member, they should be regulated.”

Among the ideas heavily discussed were the “aesthetics” of solar panels and their merit of them in the larger discussion of potential laws. This includes their color and size.

“The aesthetics of the solar panel is ridiculous,” Olivia Pinsley, an attendee, said. “I don’t get to decide what color people’s houses are, the kind of bushes that they have in front of their house, the color of the roof that they pick.”

Included within this topic is the placement of solar panels. 

As some attendees expressed, there is a financial benefit towards the specific placement of them on their houses. Having them on one side of a roof may wield greater financial benefits.

“I think is an unreasonable requirement for people like me that I’m not allowed to install solar panels on a south-facing roof which is facing the street,” former trustee To-On Pang said. “ I think that’s unreasonable.”

Ethan Li, another attendee, asked that people on the call be mindful of what is something that is undisputable versus something that is “very subjective to a personal taste.”

“What is indisputable is anything that is facing the south you’re going to get the most solar production,” he said. “That is a fact.”

However, as other people pointed out, the debate between appearance and effectiveness can be balanced.

“I know the Design Review Board has input on things like colors of windows and railings and they want a door that looks like this and not like that,” Wendy Halpern said. “And it’s partially to keep the what makes the village so special.”

She also advised that the village explore providing incentives and benefits to property owners who continue to make their properties more environmentally friendly.

Later, Halpern questioned the prospective guidelines’ subjectivity. This was based on the solar codes of other settlements that Thomaston had supplied on its website. In responding, Weinberg emphasized that the idea is to keep them flexible.

“One size does not fit all in any way, shape, form or manner,” he said. “We are always interested in fast-tracking especially something that is environmentally friendly.”

Another point of contention was the cost of property surveys.

“I didn’t make any addition in the last 10 years,” Pang said. “If I have a survey from 10 years ago it should be good for now because [a property survey] does cost $600 or $700.”

Wilson responded to Pang’s remark by emphasizing that the goal is not to increase property owners’ expenses. He advised calling one’s title company or surveyor and providing an update, as this may save them money.

“Giving us a current site survey that’s been produced recently streamlines that process when we serve the neighborhood,” Wilson said.

As the event concluded, Wilson restated the importance of community dialogue. 

“It’s very important for us to get all the information from those that are affected by everything that we do, so I appreciate that,” he said. “Hopefully, we can move forward and everybody will be in consensus.”

The Thomaston Board of Trustees made no remark on anticipated timelines or meeting dates in the future.

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