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Town Official Defends Al Gore's Energy Inefficient House

Zoning rules in Al Gore's upscale Tennessee neighborhood have prevented the former vice president and environmental activist from installing solar panels on his roof.

Gore bought his multimillion dollar home in 2002 in Belle Meade, an exclusive city encircled by metropolitan Nashville, and he has embarked on an ambitious renovation. But his contractors ran into a legal barrier last summer when they sought to apply for a permit to install solar panels on the roof.

Terry Franklin, Belle Meade's building officer, said the town only allows power generating equipment to be placed on the ground level. "Solar panels are generators," Franklin said.

"We told them they couldn't do it," he said. "They wanted to try anyway, but we convinced them it was something the board wouldn't allow."

A conservative group that disputes the findings about global warming criticized Gore last month, complaining that his home uses too much electricity.

Belle Meade, the nation's fifth-richest town according to the 2000 Census, developed the zoning rules because many of its homes have backup electric generators. The area has several tall trees and residents have discouraged Nashville Electric Service crews from pruning those near power lines. Power outages from falling branches have forced several residents to purchase backup generators.

Gore's contractors had argued that silent solar panels should not be equated with noisy gas- or diesel-powered generators, but they ultimately agreed not to press the issue while the city considered changes to the code.

New rules on April 1 will allow homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs. But there's a caveat: "Solar panels may be installed upon the roof of a building so long as they are not visible from the street or from any adjoining property," according to the ordinance.

Gore's roof does have flat areas where the panels could be placed, Franklin said.

The builders at Gore's home plan to make the application for solar panels once the new ordinance goes into effect.

"We just sort of had to wait until they caught up with things," said Steve Rick, Gore's architect. "I didn't think it was worth fighting because we knew the change was coming."

Gore, who starred in the documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth" about global warming, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008 although he repeatedly has said he has no plans to join the race.