Just how much interest is there in solar power options for single-family homes in Brookfield and Riverside? Judging from a special Solar Summit held in both villages on the morning of Oct. 6, more than anyone expected.

Collaboratively organized by the building departments in both villages with the help of a local builder dedicated to sustainable construction practices and a pair of solar power system companies, the Solar Summit drew more than twice the expected number of attendees, said Nicholas Greifer, Brookfield’s community and economic development director.

Greifer said he was expecting perhaps 30 or so people to turn out, but the event drew upwards to 75 people from both villages, who not only heard from industry experts about the costs and challenges of installing solar panels but also visited two homes – one in Brookfield and one in Riverside — where solar panels had been installed.

“I think the main takeaway is that there is a lot of grassroots community interest in going solar,” Greifer said.

Both villages in recent years have pursued policies that encourage sustainable building practices, from beefed-up storm water management rules to streamlining the permitting process for solar panel installation on residential homes.

In 2008, Riverside voters approved an advisory referendum for the village to pursue a policy of encouraging sustainable building practices and conserving resources, which it has put into practice with the construction of a permeable paver public parking lot (with another on the way), permeable paver alleys and permeable paver streetscaping along East Burlington Street in downtown Riverside.

In 2012, the Riverside moved to expand the ability of homeowners to install solar panels.

“Ultimately, we all know what the stakes are,” said Riverside Village President Ben Sells during introductory remark at the Brookfield Village Hall. “If we don’t find ways to be environmentally responsible, the results are potentially catastrophic for our planet.”

Brookfield recently earned recognition as a “Sol Smart” community for its receptiveness to residential solar panel installation. The village has at least a half dozen homes where solar panels have been installed in recent years, and Greifer said his department has received permits for four more solar panel projects in the past five weeks. 

“I think it’s gotten to the point where you don’t have to be an environmentalist to want to do this,” Greifer said. “It’s also for budget-conscious homeowners who want to lower the cost of homeownership.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about solar panel rules and the permitting process can reach Greifer in Brookfield at ngreifer@brookfieldil.gov and Sonya Abt, community development director in Riverside, at sabt@riverside.il.us.