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Planners Allow Lower Nazareth Residents' Solar Panel Plan

A residential solar energy plan -- submitted by a husband and wife who hope to reduce their high electric bill -- receives nod of approval from neighbor and Lower Nazareth Planning Commission.

Gene and Nancy Miller basked in the warmth of success Monday night after the Lower Nazareth Planning Commission approved their site plan for an array of solar panels.

The Millers hope, however, to soon see newly installed solar panels -- in the back yard of their Hecktown Road home -- basking in the warmth of the sun. Gene Miller estimates his electric bill will drop 80 to 90 percent once the Board of Supervisors give its stamp of approval as well.

But the road to Monday's victory was quite bumpy.

Gene Miller chatted with Patch about his proposed project after the July Planning Commission meeting. At the time, he felt conflicts with the township’s amended solar ordinance may be insurmountable.

Required setbacks and a 75-foot buffer between solar panels and property lines, according to Miller, put the solar panels in the middle of his back yard, spoiling a beautiful view. 

“Our property is beautiful, and why would we want [the array of solar panels] to be the focal point of the whole thing?” Miller rhetorically asked.

As an alternative, Miller researched rooftop solar panels. But because that option would require cutting down several 100-year-old trees, he couldn't justify the sacrifice.

The Millers soon faced another hurdle: funding.

With the Millers' retirement savings earmarked for the project, a contractor's estimate of $2,000 to $8,000 to do a site plan was daunting.

That cost, Gene Miller explained, didn’t include the solar panels or the installation.

Another risk that was carefully weighed was property resale.

“A buyer might not value the same things we do,” Miller reasoned.

The Millers, however, returned to face the Planning Commission on Monday. After consulting with an engineer, they were now armed with a revised plan, a variance request for the 75-foot buffer, and testimony from a supportive neighbor.

Terry DeGroot, a professional engineer with Terraform Engineering, explained to board members that his clients found middle ground -- literally.

By moving the array of solar panels to the back of the property -- but still in the middle of the yard -- the panels will be 600 feet from the Millers' home. The plan Gene Miller first considered had the panels at 250 feet.

With the panels so far from the house, DeGroot added, the Millers believe they will be able to enjoy their view.

Degroot requested a modification to the 75-foot buffer, explaining that an existing line of evergreen trees -- in addition to additional trees the Millers are willing to plant -- would hide the proposed array of solar panels from neighbors.

“I don’t think the extra buffer required is necessary,” said Robert Pitsko, who lives next door to the Millers. “I support the plan to install the panels and hope you’ll allow it.”

After reviewing the revised site plan, hearing from Pitsko, and comparing notes from two visits -- by Planning Commission members -- to the Millers’ property, approval was granted for both the site plan and the buffer variance.

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