Solar power arrays

The Chestertown Historic District Commission is considering the wider applications of solar arrays, such as this one seen on a Mount Vernon Avenue home, in town.

CHESTERTOWN — The Historic District Commission, meeting Wednesday, Nov. 4, got a lesson on solar energy installations. At the same meeting, it approved two solar installations in the Historic District and suggested it is open to a wider application of the technology.

Scott Johnson of Advanced Solar, the company installing solar arrays for members of the Kent County solar cooperative, took the commission through the basics of solar energy.

Commissioner Nancy McGuire asked Johnson to “start from scratch,” assuming commissioners were completely unfamiliar with solar energy technology.

Johnson began by displaying a small solar panel as an example of the roof installation his company would use. He noted that the panels come in various colors and sizes. A full installation may include dozens of panels, depending on the size of the roof, he said.

Johnson also discussed the cost of an installation, the effect of panels on the life of a roof and the details of installation on different kinds of roofs. The lifetime of an installation is about 25 years on a good roof, he said.

Asked if he would do an installation on a slate roof, Johnson said he would subcontract it, assuming the roof is sound. He said he had never been asked to do an installation on a wooden roof. He said an installation can be removed with very little impact on the appearance of the roof or its structural integrity.

Commissioner Ed Minch, who has solar power at his own home, provided additional comments on some of the practical details of solar power. He invited other commission members to come look at his home to learn more about the technology.

Commissioner John Turner Ames said the HDC needs to needs to figure out how to allow solar technology without compromising historic guidelines. “If the queen can allow it on Buckingham Palace, we can approve it on Queen Street,” he said.

McGuire said the town might benefit from a study of how Breckinridge, Colo., a town nearly the same size as Chestertown, has handled solar power. “They've really got their act together,” she said.

Following Johnson's presentation, the commission reviewed an application for solar panels on a Queen Street residence. Johnson, whose company is to perform the installation, spoke on behalf of the property owners, Anthony and Catherine D'Elia.

The residence at 223 S. Queen St., was built in 2006. It is next to a corner lot, now vacant because the house there has been demolished.

Chairwoman Alexa Silver asked which part of the roof the solar panels would be installed on. The roof has both a sloped potion and a flat one.

Johnson said the application is for the lower, flat portion of the roof, which he said is not visible from the street. He said the installation would require 11 panels, which he said would provide about 40 percent of the house's electrical power.

There was some discussion about the possibility of an installation on the other portion of the roof, which would currently be visible, but would not be if the house next door is rebuilt. Minch said he would have liked the opportunity to hash out whether the commission would allow that installation.

McGuire said the property is non-contributing, which makes the criteria less rigorous. On contributing structures, the standard has generally been that solar panels are permitted as long as they are not visible from the street.

The vote to approve was unanimous.

The commission had already voted to allow a change in the solar configuration of the new Sultana Education Foundation building on Cross Street.

Drew McMullen, president of the Sultana foundation, said the commission previously agreed to allow solar panels on the flat roof of the new addition, from which point they would be invisible from street level. However, he said, for the building to achieve the LEED platinum certification Sultana is seeking, panels would need to be put on the south side of the new gable, to benefit from direct exposure to the sun.

Asked if there would be panels on the historic building next door, a former Methodist church and newspaper office, McMullen said no. “We knew that wouldn't fly,” he said.

The commission had no objections to putting panels on the south surface. “They seem to be part of the whole package,” said McGuire, referring to Sultana's stated intention of making its headquarters self-sustaining. The vote to approve was unanimous.

In Other Business:

• The commission considered a request by the Town of Chestertown to renovate the Stam Hall clock, which is owned by the town.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll discussed the history of the clock and the nature of the repairs, which include replacement of the glass face of the clock and the wooden hands.

Ingersoll said the town doesn't currently have money budgeted for the repairs, but would be willing to do the work piecemeal. He said the grandson of the original clockmaker is still in business, and would be the obvious party to perform the work. He offered the commission a chance to see the clockworks from inside the tower.

Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy volunteered to get photos of the clock to help the commision decide on the application.

After discussion, the commission decided to table the application pending more details of the proposed renovations.

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