Residents opposed to new city restrictions on solar panels say they have submitted more than 800 signatures to pressure the City Council to rescind the recent ordinance or allow residents to have a say by voting.
Under the restrictions, homeowners face limits based on lot size for installing ground-mounted solar systems and need a special use permit if they want to install solar panels on the portion of the roof that faces a street.
Violators can be fined up to $2,000 a day, though city officials say they will first seek voluntary compliance. Solar systems already installed will be exempt.
North Richland Hills officials are verifying the signatures, city spokeswoman Mary Peters said. Under the City Charter, if the number of signatures equals at least 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election, then the council must reconsider the ordinance. If the council does not repeal the ordinance, then it goes to a special election.
Last week, solar energy supporters submitted petitions that they said contain 874 signatures, well above the needed 733 signatures. Mayor Oscar Trevino said he views the petition as a starting point for a citywide discussion.
He said he would like to give a voice to regular residents as opposed to just advocates on either side.
The ordinance was approved to give neighbors a chance to comment on a homeowner’s plans to install solar panels, city officials said.
City Senior Planner Clayton Comstock urged residents to read the ordinance, because some residents are receiving misinformation. “We’re not anti-solar, as we said before,” Comstock said.
But solar energy supporters say the ordinance creates an unnecessary burden. They said solar energy significantly cuts their utility costs and reduces water usage and pollution from coal-fired power plants.
About 30 residents met Jan. 5 at the North Richland Hills Public Library to discuss how to reverse the Dec. 8 vote. Meeting host Dan Lepinski said he had solar panels installed on his house about 10 years ago.
“We need to get back out and say, ‘I may not be interested in installing solar panels on my home, but this is my home and my right to install them to help reduce my electric bills or help the environment’ or whatever your reasons,” Lepinski said. “It doesn’t matter, it’s your right to install them.”
With the cost of solar panels falling, North Richland Hills seeing an increase in solar installations. The city has issued about 65 electrical permits for solar panels during the past four years, and about 20 in the past six months.
Under the ordinance, residents can get a standard permit or $200 to $500 if their solar panels do not face a street in five to seven days. A special use permit costs $582, and can take 30 to 45 days, as neighbors are notified, a notice is published in a local newspaper and city staff bring the project before the city Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. The council can refuse to issue the permit.