Demystifying Solar in Sag Harbor


When it comes to obtaining approval for solar panels for a house in Sag Harbor, the question is in two parts. Is the house inside the village’s historic district, or outside? There you’ll find your answer.

According to Anthony Brandt, chairman of Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review (BHPAR), the rules that that board follows — which are set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior — prohibit solar panels in the historic district if they are visible from the street or from neighboring properties.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior guidelines specifically cite “roof-top mechanical or service equipment” that “damages or obscures character-defining roof features or is conspicuous on the site or from the public right-of-way.”

“People generally don’t realize that and they get very upset when we explain that to them,” Mr. Brandt said this week. “They will go to great lengths to figure out how to hide them, but it’s very hard to do.”

RELATED: Express Sessions Panel Tackles Renewable Energy

In recent years, the BHPAR has said “no” to solar panels at houses on Latham, Howard and Garden streets — all in the historic district. But outside the district, Mr. Brandt said, they are often approved.

“We generally don’t have a problem with it. Who’s not going to approve of solar panels?” he said. “I wish I could put them on my own house, but I can’t. There’s too much shade around my house.”

Building inspector Tom Preiato said he has issued permits for just four solar panel systems in his more than three years with the village, and estimates there are 20 such systems in Sag Harbor.

“We are green,” Mr. Preiato said. “Well, as green as we can be. There is no prohibition on solar.”

Unlike the efforts being made in Southampton Town and East Hampton Town, Sag Harbor doesn’t have any current initiatives promoting energy efficiency or renewable energy within village limits.

“I don’t know of any, but it would be a good idea,” Mr. Preiato said.

“I don’t think the village needs to do it,” Mr. Brandt said. “I think that it’s just going to happen over time. Except for the historic district, [the village] is not standing in the way, either.”

How Can Residents Amp Up Their Energy Game?

Southampton Town and East Hampton Town both have options that can help people increase efficiency and even take advantage of renewable energy options. Here are a few.

– Both towns participate in the Long Island Green Homes program, which starts off with a free energy audit, then connects homeowners to resources like PSEG rebates and other financial incentives.

– Both towns have announced community-wide solar power efforts in which groups of potential solar power customers can come together and choose an installation company that offers competitive and transparent bulk pricing.

– Both towns have installed electric car charging stations at various places that residents and visitors can use.

– The South Fork Peak Savers initiative encourages people to install smart thermostats, variable speed pool pumps and other energy-efficient appliances by offering rebates in partnership with PSEG.

A Guide to Modern Energy in 10 Keywords

Here’s what some of the current technical terms mean.

Battery: An electricity storage system that can be built on small scales for homes or businesses or on large scales to support entire power grids. Battery systems can automatically detect when the power goes out and begin supplying electricity; they can also support electrical grids during times of heavy power usage.

Clean energy: Power and fuel sources that do not rely on carbon-emission-heavy fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

Electrical grid: An interconnected system, frequently consisting of high voltage transmission lines, power substations and local distribution lines, through which utilities deliver power to homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency: Streamlining the consumption of power and fuel in such a way that it is reduced.

Geothermal system: An arrangement of pipes and pumps that relies on the consistent underground temperature to heat and cool a building.

Peak usage: The times of the day and the week when consumers use electricity at the greatest rates.

Rebate: A financial incentive to inspire a home or business owner to take part in some sort of energy efficiency or renewable energy program.

Renewable energy: An approach to energy production that relies on naturally occurring, continually refreshed resources such as the sun, wind, tides and geothermal temperatures.

Solar array: A system of light-responsive panels, built on top of roofs or on large, flat swaths of open land, that convert sunlight into electricity.

Wind farm: A cluster of tall, modern turbines, often installed on land or in oceans, that rely on wind to turn individual windmills that produce electricity that is then transmitted by underground wiring into the local power grid.