fancy house with solar panels

Solar Panels in Historic Districts: Progress v. Preservation

“I’m doing it to replace coal. I feel like this is the future. We should be driving down the street and seeing these on every house.”

Those are the words of Worthington, Ohio homeowner, Patrick Rogers, who finds himself at odds with the Worthington Architectural Review Board (ARB) on his desire to install 25 rooftop solar panels at his private residence.

home in historical district ohio
Rogers’ 1959-built home lies in a historical district in Worthington, OH

Before diving into the details of why Roger’s is currently being kept from cutting his coal consumption, it should be noted that this story was first reported in a ThisWeek group article by Gary Seamon Jr.

The background

Back in July, Rogers contracted MOXIE to design and install an 8kW home solar energy system that would help him cut energy costs and, more importantly, reduce his carbon footprint. MOXIE finalized the custom solar array design in early August, but installation is now halted after the ARB voted 4-3 against issuing Rogers the necessary “certificate of appropriateness”. Because Rogers’ home lies in a historical district, his home solar project must meet the criteria laid out in Worthington’s 2017 resolution created to “encourage energy conservation while maintaining the integrity of the historic district.”

Criteria for solar in Worthington’s historic district

The criteria outlined in Worthington’s architectural-review district resolution includes a push to “place solar panels in a location that minimizes the visual impact as seen from the right of way and surrounding properties, ensuring that panels visible from the right of way do not alter the historic character of a property and maintaining and preserving the character of the structure.”

One potential pain point of this resolution is that the criteria is mostly subjective, hence the case by case ARB voting process. But the larger issue is the fact that these criteria can hinder the optimal placement of panels and therefore the production capability of individual panels and the solar array as a whole. This predicament is illustrated well in Rogers’ situation.

South is best, colors are controllable

Like most solar panel installs, MOXIE’s team of in-house solar engineers specifically designed Rogers’ system to have the panels face south (solar panels installed in the Northern Hemisphere are most efficient when facing south). For Rogers, this south-facing design is 30% more efficient than other design configurations and allows him to minimize the total number of panels he needs to offset his average energy usage.


MOXIE designed Rogers’ solar array to be south facing, which maximizes the potential sunlight hours

But, as you may have guessed, it so happens that this design means all the panels would be visible from the street. This, in the eyes of at least 4 of the ARB members, violates the cities resolution to “minimize the visual impact as seen from the right of way and surrounding properties.”


The panels would be visible from the street of this historic district, so installation has been blocked

The aesthetics of solar panels has always a subject of controversy. Some see panels more as an eye-sore more than an intelligent tool for saving money and protecting the environment. However, with the emergence of color-matching solar panels and frameless modules, the relevancy of this stance is quickly diminishing. In Roger’s case, his black roof would blend well with the black-on-black solar panels that MOXIE has proposed.

Next steps

Rogers is now in the process of appealing the ARB’s decision. However, time is of the essence due to the Federal Solar Tax Credit that’s set to drop from 26% down to 22% at the end of 2020. Once the appeal is submitted, the committee will have 30 days to decide whether they will allow for the appeal to be heard in an upcoming meeting. If Rogers does win his appeal, MOXIE will be using its trademark Rapid Installation Team to ensure this project is completed before the end of the year.

What do you think?

Do you think solar panels in historic districts should be allowed? What about in this case? Should Rogers be allowed to install this solar energy system in order to make his home more eco-friendly, or do you see it as an impermissible infringement on the preservation of historic districts?

Use the social media icons on your screen to share your take. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the outcome!

 

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