Rooftop solar panels put fire fighters at risk, chief says

CENTRAL HURON – Rooftop solar panels hinder fire fighters’ efforts to ventilate blazes and put their safety at risk, says Central Huron’s fire chief.

While Steve Cooke warned council last night that fire fighters may not respond to fires in buildings with solar panels on the roofs, at the very least they will need training to work around solar panels that can’t easily be turned off, add extra weight to roofs and may be “highly toxic” when burning.

“There is a possibility that if a structure has a massive solar panel system on its roof that we wouldn’t be fighting the fire,” he said, noting such a move could affect insurance coverage on the structure. “We’re not spraying water on 600 volts, that’s all there is to it.”

On the heels of the fire chief’s comments, Coun. Brian Barnim asked whether fire fighters would respond to a fire at the community complex once a municipally owned solar panel system is installed.

“The building construction would play a large part. You’ve got an all-steel structure there. There are no problem areas in a building like that. We’d take a long, hard look at something with wood trusses and construction,” Cooke said.

The Huron County fire chiefs are hammering out standard operating guidelines, and may have a draft in place after its next meeting, Jan. 17.

“Right now, these structures are a concern to all fire departments, not just the ones in this area,” Cooke said.

He made his comments as council considered a request from KW Power Logic to support an application from Sluys Holstein Inc. to the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) Feed-In Tariff program for a 250-kW solar PV rooftop project at 80493 Base Line Rd., Clinton.

Most ground-mounted solar projects on agricultural land around the province are less than 10 kW.

Under new rules developed by the OPA, projects with municipal support receive extra points when their contracts are considered.

Although council supported the application, the applicant will still be required to get all necessary building approvals from the municipality’s chief building officer.

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