Archive for August 21, 2013

Home Owners Associations and Your Solar Rights

This blog is the result of many calls to TSEA regarding homeowners rights when their home owners associations prevent homes in their association from installing solar panels. The original article is thanks to the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and their solar citizen newsletter. Join TSEA and ASES to create a strong ally in promoting solar in our state and in our country.

By Steve Wright

The benefits of residential solar panel arrays are becoming clearer with each passing year. Rooftop solar panels reduce energy expenditures, carbon emissions and infrastructure-related inefficiencies. There’s also mounting evidence that solar increases the value of the home. Unfortunately, homeowner associations across the country continue to ignore the overwhelmingly positive body of evidence and impose onerous restrictions on residential solar panel installations. Read on to learn how to fight back.

Rights of the HOA
Well-established legal precedents support efforts by HOAs to impose “reasonable restrictions” on their members’ attempts to install solar panels. Generally speaking, courts have been reticent to overturn specific HOA bylaws unless they are found to be arbitrary, unconstitutional or blatantly illegal.

Because an outright ban might look arbitrary (or illegal in many states), HOAs often make rules that restrict the visibility and size of solar panel arrays. Ostensibly designed to promote health and “peace of mind” by reducing glare and rendering “eyesores” less visible, these restrictions often compel homeowners to move their panels to shady, fenced-in yards or to first-floor roofs that can’t be seen from the road.

Unfortunately, HOAs can also use certain legal caveats to deny solar panel installation outright. These often take the form of restrictive covenants designed to preserve or increase property values. They may purport to preserve a community’s “brand” by standardizing the appearance of its homes. Unlike restrictive covenants that come with “sunset clauses” or “express termination” windows, bylaws that restrict solar panel use tend to be permanent and must be invalidated by legal challenges or law changes.

Solar Access Laws
With this in mind, several states have enacted common-sense legal protections for homeowners who want to go solar. While these generally don’t interfere with the “reasonable restrictions” guideline, they prevent persnickety HOAs from making punitive demands on well-meaning members.

California’s Solar Rights Act serves as the model for most of these state laws. Although it was originally intended to prevent HOAs from imposing arbitrary restrictions or outright bans on solar panel arrays, it has since been expanded to cover municipal and regional government bodies. The law has also been amended to ensure that homeowners retain access to state-sponsored solar energy grants and to protect inhabitants of multi-unit dwellings like high-rise apartments and condominiums.

Florida’s own Solar Rights Law offers similar protections. Without interfering with the commonly accepted “reasonable restrictions” allowance, the law prohibits HOAs from banning solar panel arrays and specifically overrides any HOA bylaws that curtail the installation of rooftop solar panels. In other words, Florida homeowners can use most or all of their roofs’ square footage to install arrays.
Even wintry Massachusetts has gotten in on the action. The state’s Solar Access Law nullifies existing and future HOA prohibitions and expressly permits solar easements on residential land. Even better, it prohibits HOAs from restricting the trimming and clearing of vegetation that obscures solar panels on members’ properties.

Remedies for Homeowners
Most homeowners start by attempting to persuade their HOA to refrain from unreasonable restrictions on solar panel installation. This requires an age-old persuasion tactic: the power of credibility. Homeowners often point to credible sources that support the efficacy of solar power. They might cite the U.S. Energy Department’s estimate that a single 10,000 square-mile patch of the Nevada desert receives enough sunlight to satisfy the entire country’s energy needs, or multiple studies that have found a positive correlation between residential solar panel arrays and home values.

Such persuasive efforts must focus on the positive aspects of solar power and cite concrete evidence from non-controversial sources. You could argue that solar panels would reduce homeowner electricity bills and the frequency of peak-period blackouts. Use a politically-neutral source for your facts — the U.S. Department of Energy has a website rich with good data. It’s hard to argue with concrete evidence.

If these efforts prove insufficient, homeowners generally attempt to negotiate a compromise agreement. Since aesthetic concerns often drive these restrictive covenants, successful agreements may require homeowners to keep front-facing portions of their roofs free of solar panels. As a compromise, HOAs might allow solar panel users to trim trees that shade these arrays. Magnanimous homeowners might even volunteer to divert a portion of their panels’ production to commonly held equipment like public-area sprinkler systems or streetlights.

In the worst case, a homeowner may be forced to take legal action against a stubborn HOA. Pro-solar organizations advise homeowners who pursue this course of action to focus on HOA-initiated actions that a court might find to be arbitrary, punitive or “unreasonable.” Ultimately, litigants must be prepared to cite facts that refute common arguments about negative home-value and aesthetic impacts. Those who wish to pursue legislative remedies often use stronger solar-rights laws, like those in Massachusetts and Florida, as templates.

Conclusion
Despite widespread legal protections for homeowners, many HOAs go to great lengths to restrict members’ rights to install solar panel arrays on private property. In a world beset by rising fossil-fuel energy costs, weakening electric infrastructure and a deteriorating natural environment, tension between an HOA and its members is counterproductive. Fortunately, commonsense legislation and a growing body of pro-solar legal precedents have made it easier for homeowners to fight back against overzealous HOAs.
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Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel Buildings

Trainings, Workshops, Courses and Seminars

EVENT DATE CITY EVENT NAME
Mon, 09/09/2013 JOHNSON CITY Free NABCEP Entry Level Training and test
Mon, 09/16/2013 JACKSON Free NABCEP Entry Level Training and test
Wed, 09/18/2013 Memphis Solar PV Installer Boot Camp Training + NABCEP Entry Level Exam Prep Cost $1,295

More details on free NABCEP training, go to earlier blog
For the Memphis course go to this site

TVA proposed Solar Aggregated Value and Education (SAVE) Initiative

TVA will install at least 500 kWs of solar PV at TVA facilities, TVA directly served customer locations, or another government-owned facility (including all local public power companies served by TVA), and shall maintain the PV installations for a minimum of twenty years following approval of project plan. The objective of SAVE is for TVA to partner with the regional community to raise solar energy awareness and education, reduce solar energy costs, and to test the market for upfront Renewable Energy Credit (REC) purchases. The SAVE initiative is based on a community solar business model which brings together individual donors, organizations, and investors to leverage community engagement and maximize stakeholder value.

for more information, go here

Author’s comment:
1. it does not address distributor’s concerns; 2. It does not address soft costs; 3. It does not avoid borrowing of money; 4. It may not locate the solar where it can be best incorporated; 5. It is too small to make an impact on increasing consumer demand; 6. Who manages the overall program(s)? 7. Continue the concept of asking for donations?

Tea Party Joins with the Sierra Club to Promote Solar in Georgia

As Debbie Dooley co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party explains, “I’m a grandmother, and I want to be able to look my grandson in the eyes and tell him I’m looking out for his future. Conservation is conservative, and protecting our children and our natural resources is a conservative value.” Those who believe in the free market need to reexamine the way our country produces energy. Giant utility monopolies deserve at least some competition, and consumers should have a choice. It’s just that simple, and it’s consistent with the free-market principles that have been a core value of the Tea Party since we began in 2009.

“In Georgia, we have one company controlling all of the electricity production, which means consumers have no say in what kind of power they must buy. A solar company could not start up and offer clean power to customers because of restrictions in state law. Our Constitution does not say that government should pick winners and losers, but that is what government is doing when it protects the interests of older technologies over clean energy that’s now available at competitive prices. I say, let the market decide” says Debbie.

She goes on to explain, “Georgians are currently and unjustly denied this opportunity, and will continue to be unless a law is passed to change the system. That is why the Atlanta Tea Party supported Senate Bill 401 in the past legislative session. Georgia Power opposed it and it never made it out of committee. We will try again when the Georgia legislature reconvenes in January 2014. All states should allow their citizens the opportunity to generate and sell their own solar power.”

So I ask our elected state and federal officeholders, “Why hesitate in voting for extending the Master Limited Partnership to renewables?” Level the energy playing field. Here in Tennessee, our citizens have the same demands as our neighbors in Georgia. TVA board serves the people in the valley, why not listen to their demands for cleaner energy?

Postscript: Americans for Prosperity, which like the Tea Party have been nurtured and sponsored by the Koch brothers oil billionaires, is dismissing the Georgia faction as an aberration, or even more damming, as a “green Tea Party.” It has sought to turn the issue of rights on its head by arguing that rooftop solar will “infringe upon the territorial rights to the distribution grids” of the network operators.

Strata Solar will build and maintain two 20-megawatt solar farms interconnected to the TVA power system

Strata Solar is working with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Pickwick Electric Cooperative to develop the two largest solar energy installations in the Tennessee Valley near Selmer in McNairy County, TN. TVA will buy the electricity at market rates under TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program.

“This project will add a tremendous amount of solar power to our already strong renewable lineup,” said Patty West, TVA director of Renewable Energy Programs. “Because TVA is purchasing the output at market rates, the electricity will also be among our cheapest solar power, moving us toward our vision of being a national leader in providing low-cost and cleaner energy.”
Current plans call for the solar farms to have more than 160,000 solar panels installed on over 300 acres. Each farm will be four times bigger than the largest current solar installation on the TVA system, the University of Tennessee’s five-megawatt West Tennessee Solar Farm that opened in 2012 in Haywood County, TN.

The Strata Solar projects have been accepted into TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program, pending an environmental review and interconnection studies that must be completed before construction begins. TVA is accepting public comments on the environmental review online at http://www.tva.com/environment/reports/strata/index.htm through Aug. 13.

Referenced article