Bargersville family helps usher in renewable energy ordinance

Solar panels have been a dream and conversation starter for a new Bargersville family.

Michael and Blythe Potter had been planning to install solar panels since before they moved last November to their new home in downtown Bargersville.

“We’ve always wanted solar. It is just where energy is going. It is not necessarily profitable yet, but it is getting there,” Michael Potter said.

The energy-efficient family, after they sold their old home in Greenwood, finally went through with installing solar panels they had priced out previously with money they made from the sale. But an obstacle was standing in their way: getting the power they produced onto the town’s electrical grid, into their home and discounted from their bill.

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The couple and Indianapolis company Rectify Solar worked with Bargersville Utilities to set up a process called net metering, where the utility can purchase power from the couple and deduct it from their bill. It is a process that has been enacted by utilities across the state and nation as solar power has grown in popularity. Beyond the environmental impact, consumers or business owners who install the panels are also eligible for tax credits and other incentives. 

Locally, several utility companies, such as Duke Energy and Johnson County REMC, offer renewable energy programs. But for Bargersville, the idea was new. No one in town had asked to set up a renewable energy ordinance until the Potter family moved in.

The utility worked on the ordinance for about nine months, and the town council approved it in September, said Kevin Killinger, interim utility administrator. So far, the Potters are the only customer with an active solar array, but a Whiteland family has also begun the application process, he said.

The net metering approval process has multiple stages, Killinger said.

First, customers should consult with a renewable energy vendor and determine what type of project works best for them and makes the most financial sense, he said.

Then, customers should reach out to the utility for an application and return it, complete with contact information for the vendor so the town can get a copy of the renewable energy plan the customer wants to install, Killinger said.

“It is nice to be able to give them this option if they want to pursue it,” Killinger said “I would stress that the resident should do their homework to make sure they want to make this investment.”

The plan is reviewed by Bargersville Utilities, the entity where the customer purchases power; Johnson County REMC, which owns the town’s electrical infrastructure; and Indiana Municipal Power Agency, which Bargersville Utilities purchases power from to sell to its customers.

After the customer is approved and signs agreements with Bargersville Utilities and IMPA, a two-way meter is installed at their home to read the power they consume and the power their panels are creating, Killinger said. IMPA pays each customer a set amount based on the power they produce, he said.

Right now, Bargersville residents do not have to buy a permit to install solar panels unless they also have to make a structural change to the home, Killinger said. However, the Whiteland family had to obtain a permit from the town, he said.

Protecting the environment is something the Potters strive to do in their everyday lives. They own an electric car and use compostable diapers for their infant daughter. So for them, solar energy was the next logical step.

“We are still consumers. We aren’t net-zero by any means. But it (living with a lesser carbon footprint) is important for our community, our businesses, our kids,” Blythe Potter said. “We are leaving them not the best environment. Things are heating up literally and figuratively. If we can help spur change, we will.”

Panels on the roof of their home and garage cost the family about $39,000, and were designed to produce about 85% of the family’s annual electricity usage, Michael Potter said. They know the panels won’t pay for themselves for several decades, but that’s OK, he said.

“For us, it was more about the philosophy than the economics,” Michael Potter said. “The economics of it probably won’t pay off for a while — about 30 years.”

Being the first house in town with solar panels, neighbors ask a lot of questions about how they work and how to get started, Blythe Potter said.

“We get people stopping and asking about it all the time. We’ve met more people from the solar panels. That is kind of fun,” she said. 

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Here is a look at how to sign up for net metering in Bargersville: 

  1. Customers should research, select a contractor and plan their energy project.
  2. Customers should then contact Bargersville Utilities and submit an application.
  3. Bargersville Utilities processes the application and sends the plans to Johnson County REMC for an engineering review.
  4. Customers also complete a power purchase agreement with Indiana Municipal Power Association that will document how IMPA will pay for the excess generation, supply a one-line diagram and proof of ownership.
  5. If approved, IMPA sends a meter to Bargersville Utilities to bring the customer online.

Sources: Bargersville Utilities and Indiana Municipal Power Association