When Paul Keplinger built a solar energy collector in his front yard to heat the water in his home he thought he was being a good citizen by saving energy as well as saving money on utility bills.
But Arlington County zoning officials learned of the collector through a local newspaper story and ruled that the triangular structure does not meet county zoning ordinances. Although none of the neighbors have complained, Keplinger has been told that the collector must be moved or taken down.
"They [government officials] talk about energy conservation . . . but the county government is trying to blockade it," Keplinger said.
So, as people across the country band together to celebrate Sun Day Keplinger has taken his problem to the Arlington County Board to ask that special regulations be set for solar collectors.
"The bureaucrats shouldn't look at energy conservation as a structure," contractor, sais. "Rather than forcing people to take them down, they should be encouraging people to put them up."
The collector, which is 5 feet high, 10 feet long and 6 feet wide and housed in a cedar shake frame, is considered a structure, Arlington zoning administrator V. Kaffo said. As such it is required to be 50 feet from the centerline of the street, or 25 feet from the front property line. The collector is 28 feet from the centerline, Keplinger said.
Keplinger asked the Arlington Board of Zoning Appeals last fall for a variance for the collector, but the zoning board said he must relocate the collector next to his front porch, 45 feet from the centerline, or take it down.
Keplinger said that if he moved it, the shading from the porch would reduce the collector's effectiveness by 30 to 50 percent. He says he will take it down rather than move it.
Kaffo said the zoning board was convinced that it is important for Keplinger to continue to leave the collector in the front yard where it is exposed to the sun. But the board believed the move would not cause problems, Kaffo said.
The zoning controversy is somewhat unusual, solar energy experts said, because usually people check into zoning technicalities before building collectors. However, people who build collector panels on their roofs often run into problems with building codes, Gail Boyer Hayes of the Environmental Law Institute said.
She said that the ground collector problems usually fall into three areas: zoning problems for accessory structures, asethetic restrictions, and a very few cases of people fighting over the right of access to sunlight.