GOSHEN — Marvin Bartel is enjoying the benefits of owning two solar energy collectors, though it didn’t come without some discussion.
The panels supply Bartel with clean electricity as well as a source of income. Excess energy is sold back to the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. at the end of every month through the company’s tariff buy-back program.
And there’s usually plenty of energy left over.
Bartel said that even during extremes like the recent heat wave, the solar collectors were producing more energy than he was using. Under normal circumstances, the panels produce approximately two times more energy than Bartel uses.
Bartel first went before Goshen’s Board of Zoning Appeals in December of 2011, seeking approval to install two 21-foot high panels on a piece of land he owns. The lot at 2305 College Ave. was previously vacant aside from a fruit and vegetable garden.
He said could not add the panels to his roof as his house is surrounded by trees and he did not want to cut any of them down.
There was some debate, however, as to whether or not Bartel could set up the panels on posts and still be in compliance with zoning regulations. The problem was Bartel’s plan to employ the collectors for commercial use in a residential zone.
Several neighbors who live close to the lot also voiced concerns over how the panels would look and the effect they would have on property values.
A divided BZA voted 3-2 in January to allow Bartel to build. To ease aesthetic concerns, he planted four trees each on the west and north sides of the lot.
The collectors have been fully functional since May. Bartel heartily recommended the program to those who can have the resources necessary to install solar collectors when and where they can.
Several people have thought like Bartel and applied for permits to put in panels, but with mixed success. Some requests have been given the go-ahead, while others have failed to meet zoning requirements for accessory structures.
Rhonda Yoder, planning/zoning administrator for the city, believes the increase in requests is directly related to NIPSCO’s program.
That increase has proved to be a perpelexing issue for the BZA, however, as it tries to figure out how best to deal with the installation of solar panels.
Yoder believes that continuing to handle solar collectors as accessory structures is the best system for the city. “It works fairly well as it is,” she said.
Still, the BZA has asked that a study group be convened to look into the effectiveness of the current ordinance and investigate potential alternatives, though Yoder believes most communities in Indiana handle solar collectors similarly.