Would solar panels ruin the view in Kildeer? Residents leading the charge to end ban
In an attempt to stay true to its motto -- "A Unique Village in a Natural Setting" -- Kildeer is one of the few Illinois municipalities that bans roof-mounted solar panels from residential buildings.
The reason? Village leaders think they're ugly.
And they don't think much more of free-standing or ground-mounted solar energy systems, solar farms or solar gardens, all of which are also prohibited in the village.
Residents may install only the generally pricier version of solar energy collection: integrated solar roofs, which are made of solar shingles that blend into a home's appearance.
Not everyone in the town of 4,000 shares the village's aversion, however, and several residents are banding together to try to get the regulations changed.
Mike Zanillo, a 29-year Kildeer resident, is leading the charge.
"Because I am active in climate, I know how valuable all the federal and state incentives are now. It's more beneficial than ever, purely from a cost standpoint. I mean, forget the environment," Zanillo said. "When I heard we're maybe chasing away developers and impacting our tax base, I just got the idea that this doesn't really represent the views of the community. Whether or not you're pro- or anti-climate, does it just financially make sense nowadays to still have this ban?"
Kildeer is a southwest Lake County community located just east of Lake Zurich. The village's median household income is $226,375, and its median residential property value is $639,900 -- more than double Illinois' median of $212,600, according to data from the 2021 American Community Survey five-year estimates.
Restrictions on solar-power equipment to certain materials and designs is not unusual for the village, said Chief Village Officer Michael Talbett. The municipality already restricts building materials based on quality and aesthetic concerns, he said. For instance, the village does not permit vinyl siding on its homes.
"The village has always been particular on the quality of the materials that are used for a house so that it maintains the character of the village," Talbett said.
He added that when the village board initially held hearings about solar panels in 2019, the concern was that it didn't want solar systems "that may become obsolete in a few years and then not become very attractive and could perhaps detract from the other homes around it."
"They wanted a quality roof material because again, in the village, for roof materials, we allow cedar shake and then a higher-end architectural shingle," Talbett said. "They wanted materials of a certain quality that match the village. They didn't want lower-end materials."
While roof-mounted systems are technically permitted atop commercial buildings in Kildeer, they must be hidden from view by raised roofs.
The municipality's strict regulations mean it hasn't approved a single solar system so far.
Zanillo recently formed an informal group of residents interested in potentially overturning the ban on residential roof-mounted solar. The group is currently gauging interest among neighbors, and it plans to attend the Oct. 17 village board meeting to raise the issue.
Zanillo argues that solar power can raise the overall property value of a home due to the long-term energy savings. A 2019 study by real estate website Zillow found that homes with solar panels sold for around 4% more than those without them.
Several Kildeer residents have found out about the roof-mounted solar ban only after consulting with a solar company, signing a contract and applying for a village permit.
Jim Stamoolis signed a contract with Sunrun Solar around five years ago to put panels on his home. After waiting to have a new roof installed, Stamoolis had a Sunrun engineer visit his property for an inspection and went on to sign a contract with the company.
But when the proposal was presented to the village for a building permit, it was denied.
"I appreciate the village trustees. I certainly believe that they're trying to do the best for the village and for the stakeholders," Stamoolis said. "My position is we need a reasonable ordinance that maintains the character of the village, but at the same time allows for progress."
Stamoolis is particularly interested in solar because his son, who lives in Chicago, owns a Tesla and occasionally charges his vehicle at the Kildeer residence. To Stamoolis, solar is an opportunity to lower his electric bill while helping to protect the environment.
He looked into the integrated solar shingles that Kildeer permits, but he said the option didn't make sense financially, especially because he had just installed a new asphalt roof with a 50-year warranty.
"The cost differential was, at that point, something I wouldn't even bother considering," he said. "What any of us want to do with solar is we want it to be cost efficient."
More recently, Tariq Azam got a roof replacement and multiple roof-mounted solar quotes last summer before learning about the ordinance.
Azam grew up in Kildeer in the early 2000s before leaving for college. He came back to his childhood home to raise his own family with the aspiration to add solar to the property, but the complex shape of his roof would make solar shingles difficult to install and less efficient than a roof-mounted system.
"We are interested in solar to help wean off of our societal dependence on fossil fuels and limit the damage from further climate change. I don't want my son to inherit a world ravaged by climate change," Azam said in an email.
This is not the first effort to get village leaders to accept roof-mounted solar.
In 2019, a petition asking the village to accept solar installations garnered 126 signatures. In an effort to re-energize the movement, Zanillo is collecting signatures on a new petition, which can be found at tinyurl.com/SolarInKildeer.
With 74 signatures as of Tuesday, Zanillo wants to keep the effort local.
"I'm limiting petition signatures to only those folks that are residents of the town and are voting age," he said. "I'm trying to do this from the standpoint that there should be some accountability between the trustees to represent the views of the community, so the only views I'm presenting are those of our residents."
Kildeer isn't the only Illinois suburb with concerns about solar panels and aesthetics.
Golf, a small Cook County community just north of Morton Grove, has a moratorium in place on solar development while it finds "the best fit" for its community, village administrator Michelle Shapiro said.
She said the village is in the process of writing up an ordinance that gives interested residents the opportunity to install solar while ensuring the systems don't compromise the look of the houses. Integrated solar is one option the village is considering.
Illinois legislation passed earlier this year prevents counties from banning solar and wind development, but there is no such law for municipalities. The Illinois Environmental Council may seek to change that.
"What we're seeing in Kildeer, not only are situations like that kind of obstructing progress on the incredibly important [work] that we're seeing with renewable energy development, they're preventing homeowners from reaping the benefits of solar," Samira Hanessian, the energy policy director with the organization. "That's frankly bad and wrong."
Hanessian said IEC is exploring legislation that would ensure homeowners have more autonomy in selecting the type of solar installation that's right for their homes -- "a solar bill of rights, so to speak," she added.
• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.