Carroll County government might soon gain the supplementary power of solar panels in an attempt to cut spending, and may consider loosening restrictions on residential solar panel use.

Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked for the acquiescence of the other commissioners in allowing staff to conduct research on the affordability and plausibility of installing solar panels on buildings owned by the county.

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"We want to see if it would be beneficial to use solar to offset the electrical use of the county," Frazier said.

Carroll government's 45 major buildings cost the county roughly $3 million in electrical expenses last year, he said.

Frazier identified the county's wastewater treatment plants as one of the types of buildings that should utilize solar panels because they make up a significant portion of the county's electric bill.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said the majority of constituent feedback regarding solar panels concerned how they would affect the aesthetic quality of residential neighborhoods.

If county staff concludes solar panels are economically viable and acceptable to residents, Frazier said he would like staff to contract a solar panel engineering company to study what other buildings would most benefit the county in terms of cost savings.

Rothschild also said staff should focus on establishing an efficient payback period on solar panels before the commissioners commit to purchasing them. Frazier said there are several options by which the county could avoid paying for solar panels over a long period of time.

Carroll could buy the panels outright, thus eliminating any payback period; or they could allow a solar panel company to install the panels free of charge and purchase electricity from them, ideally at a lower rate than they are currently paying, Frazier said.

As part of the study, Weaver said he would like the Planning and Zoning Commission to review the language of their zoning ordinances to consider loosening solar panel restrictions on residential properties.

Current zoning restrictions allow for homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs or they may use up to 120 square feet of their land for solar purposes, Weaver said.

"This isn't much in solar energy generation," he said. "We want [the Planning and Zoning Commission] to relook at what is taking place in the solar industry so that residents can cut their dependence on electricity."

The county commissioners agreed to allow staff to study the economic feasibility of solar panels and asked that they give a presentation to the commissioners in the near future concerning their findings.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

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