The Hopkins City Council approved the first reading of a solar energy systems ordinance at its May 1 meeting. The second reading will be at the May 15 meeting.

If approved, the ordinance would be updated to promote the use of solar energy systems, remove regulatory barriers and create a clear path to city approval.

Currently, community members must obtain for a building permit if they wish to install a solar energy system. The goal is to instead give interested parties an easy-to-follow permit process that pertains specifically to solar energy systems.

“We would continue to follow the process that we have in place, just with more guidance,” City Planner Jason Lindahl said. “The next steps, after adoption of this ordinance, would be to go through our permitting process and create a formal checklist to make sure what we’ve got is a smooth, efficient and easy process for people to follow.”

Staff members crafted the ordinance based on the Minnesota Model Solar Ordinance, but modified it to address specific needs and conditions in Hopkins.

“We tried to pick the best things from the model ordinance and from other communities that have already test driven for us, and came up with our standards,” Lindahl said.

Staff members identified that the use of solar energy by commercial buildings would have the largest impact on greenhouse gas emissions. High-impact sites include Supervalu, the city’s landfill and other large industrial sites.

“[Commercial and industrial buildings] are the highest users of electricity in our community and they also happen to be located … in the portions of our community that have the highest solar resource,” Lindahl said. Solar resource is a specific point on a lot in which sunlight shines unobscured for at least four hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

In Hopkins, 54 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial and industrial buildings. While these buildings consume a majority of the energy, they represent only about 10 percent of the number of buildings in the city. Transportation accounts for 25 percent and residences account for 21 percent of emissions.

The report also determined that most emissions in Hopkins come from the use of electricity, rather than natural gas. If all commercial buildings installed rooftop solar energy systems, about 55 percent of all electricity consumed in the city would be through a solar energy system.

The ordinance would be amended to detail allowable uses of solar energy in each zoning district. For example, all zoning districts, including residential areas, would be permitted to install roof-mounted solar energy systems.

“It’s a system that only provides power to the property it’s on,” Lindahl said.

Roof-mounted solar gardens are permitted in all zoning districts except residential districts.

“Those would be rooftop systems that provide energy to other community uses … Those systems tend to be larger,” Lindahl said.

Solar gardens and solar farms would require a conditional use permit.

The ordinance would also create specific performance standards for solar energy systems, outline a review process and necessary application materials, place reasonable limits on private groups and encourage protection of solar access through easements.

It also identifies the intent and purpose behind the proposed regulations, including becoming a more sustainable and livable community, protecting and enhancing the environment, limiting the effects of climate change and decreasing the use of fossil fuels.

The city also determined that solar energy systems would have the most impact when compared to other alternative energy systems, such as wind and biomass.

If the council approves the amended ordinance at its next meeting, the city will be a step closer to achieving silver designation from SolSmart, a national program that recognizes communities that take steps to address local barriers to solar energy system implementation.

City officials are interested in hearing from residents who already have a solar energy system or are making efforts to be more energy efficient. Contact Lindahl at 952-548-6342 or jlindahl@hopkinsmn.com.

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I am a reporter for the Sun Sailor, covering Minnetonka, Excelsior, Shorewood, Tonka Bay, Deephaven, Greenwood, Woodland and the Hopkins School District.

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