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Let the sunshine in

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The chance to save substantially on energy costs would be enough for any commercial enterprise to see the light when it comes to solar power.

Officials at Davidson Automotive Group in the town of Watertown have made a $3 million investment in this renewable energy source. They are overseeing the installation of a ground-mounted solar array system on the 1800 block of U.S. Route 11, outer Washington Street.

The system will consist of 3,173 photovoltaic solar panels forming 13 long rows, nearly equal to the length of two football fields. The project is being installed by staff members of the Troy-based High Peaks Solar; they are expected to complete the job by the end of this week.

Each panel will generate 255 watts of electricity, and the system will generate up to 800 kilowatts at any time. The electricity will be sent to five of Davidson Automotive Group’s facilities: its Nissan, General Motors and Ford Supercenters; the Collision Center; and its Used-Vehicle Reconditioning Center.

This is a major investment in renewable energy but one that will begin paying off before too long. Kevin T. Bailey, owner of High Peaks Solar, said this system will reduce Davidson Automotive Group’s annual energy expenses by about 80 percent.

Dwight E. Davidson, co-owner of Davidson Automotive Group, said the company should be able to pay the project off in five years based on the projected energy savings. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority contributed about one-third of the funding for this system with a $900,000 rebate to Davidson Automotive Group.

The ground-mounted solar array system will complement 500-watt solar panels already installed on rooftops of eight of Davidson Automotive Group’s buildings. The ground and rooftop panels combined are projected to produce 1.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. This is expected to reduce carbon emissions by about 2.5 million pounds per year.

Imagine what Davidson Automotive Group will be able to do with the revenue it saves in energy costs each year. This is a major capital improvement on this company’s part, and other people should follow suit.

There were no obstacles in receiving approval from officials at the town of Watertown as the community does not require a zoning permit for solar panels. This was a very good thing for Davidson Automotive Group, but it could prove problematic for solar panel enthusiasts down the road.

The town of Watertown is not alone in not having any regulations when it comes to solar panels. Therefore, residents who can afford to install these systems can now put them up to their heart’s content.

But if and when this becomes more common, people are bound to express concerns about the increasing appearance of solar panels in residential areas. Then communities may have to halt any projects underway to consider the matter. Officials will either have to grandfather in any systems already constructed or force these people to make changes.

Making better use of solar power is a wise move, and more people should look into this option. But this is bound to raise questions about its impact on a community’s aesthetics, so municipal governments should jump on this now before it becomes contentious.

We previously urged authorities in the county and state levels to work on a model ordinance for communities to use as a guide when it comes to allowing solar power systems. Reducing carbon emissions is crucial to altering the course of global warming, and using solar power is a good step forward. Communities, therefore, need to figure out how to regulate such systems so projects can proceed in compliance with local standards.

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