A regional planning organization based in Kansas City is asking area municipalities to sign on to a new initiative to adapt them to new, greener technologies.
Jeff Joseph, the director of planning and zoning for Leavenworth County, said a recent letter from MARC asks for participation as part of MARC’s “team” in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge II, part of a larger initiative aimed at encouraging the utilization of solar panels as an alternative energy source for residents.
Initially, Joseph said he thought the MARC invitation was for a grant pool from which residents could apply to install solar panels on their homes.
“We’ve come to find out that it’s not really money-related,” he said.
“The grant will actually be used by the communities to start a permitting procedure.”
Joseph said many counties have little or no regulation when it comes to the residential installation of solar panels, though costs to install panels are coming down. Joseph said DOE officials believe those falling costs will encourage more homeowners to invest in them.
The more common the panels have become, the more apparent the
problems of the lack of regulations and safeguards surrounding them have become — Joseph said there have been a number of fires reported as a result of faulty installation of the panels and insulation around them. The DOE’s grant program would help train the communities train and set up permitting procedures to regulate the installation of solar panels.
However, as Joseph said, Leavenworth County itself does not have any building codes, one of the requirements for the grant.
“The only way we can partner with them is to partner with cities,” Joseph said.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber said he wanted to know if the county would incur any additional liability as a result of those new procedures.
Joseph said though a partnership with other cities would allow them to utilize those communities’ building inspectors to a point through interlocal agreements, those agreements might not be able to cover all situations.
“So suddenly it could become the county’s responsibility. We might have to have suddenly another employee to do this, which is something I do not want to proceed to do,” Graeber said.
Commissioner Dennis Bixby agreed, but said that the county could still play a role in the initiative.
“I don’t mind, through our association with MARC, if we promote the city of Leavenworth, city of Tonganoxie, Basehor, Lansing, whoever — having access to that training,” he said.
Bixby and Graeber both said they could agree to a letter of interest, though not commit to the program.
Page 2 of 2 - “We’ll explore it further before we do anything,” County Administrator Pat Hurley said.