Archive for Political

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

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.

Property Taxes Could Be the Next Obstacle for PV

Property taxes can be an ongoing cost for PV system owners and a determining factor in whether a solar system gets installed. In Connecticut, for instance, residential systems are exempt, and sometimes assessors choose to include commercial and industrial systems, and sometimes, probably in detriment to the finances of the project, they don’t.

A 3rd party investor was very interested in renting ground locations in Tennessee for solar and offering a good deal for the property owner. Their financial model was okay until they checked on the property tax they would have to pay. It was so high in some places and so confusing in other locations that the investor decided not to invest in Tennessee.

Justin Barnes, a Keyes, Fox & Wiedman Senior Policy Analyst and the lead author of the DOE Solar Outreach Partnership’s report Property Taxes and Solar PV Systems: Policies, Practices, and Issues stated that ” there are three generally accepted property tax valuation methods used by assessors: the comparable sales method widely used in residential real estate, the cost-based method in which a replacement cost is estimated, and the income method.”

According to Barnes, “Property tax issues don’t affect the value proposition of third-party ownership, but they figure in on what the property owner owes on taxes,” Barnes explained. “The assessment will affect what the third party owes to property taxes, and that filters down to what the customer pays in a lease or PPA rate.” He goes on to say “Colorado may have the most exemplary property tax system, and Ohio’s is noteworthy for its simplicity: “Systems below 250 kilowatts are exempt and those above 250 kilowatts pay a set fee. Simple. Easy.”

Original article

On Rooftops, a Rival for Utilities


For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation’s rooftops. Now, in almost panicked tones, they are fighting hard to slow the spread. And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid. The battle is playing out among energy executives, lawmakers and regulators across the country. At the heart of the fight is a credit system called net metering, which pays residential and commercial customers for excess renewable energy they sell back to utilities. Currently, 43 states, the District of Columbia and 4 territories offer a form of the incentive, according to the Energy Department.

Many utilities cling to their established business, and its centralized distribution of energy, until they can figure out a new way to make money. It is a question the Obama administration is grappling with as well as it promotes the integration of more renewable energy into the grid. “I see an opportunity for us to recreate ourselves, just like the telecommunications industry did,” Michael W. Yackira, chief executive of NV Energy, a Nevada utility, and chairman of the industry group the Edison Electric Institute, said at the group’s convention. But utility executives say that when solar customers no longer pay for electricity, they also stop paying for the grid, shifting those costs to other customers.

Utilities generally make their profits by making investments in infrastructure and designing customer rates to earn that money back with a guaranteed return, set on average at about 10 percent. A handful of utilities have taken a different approach and are instead getting into the business of developing rooftop systems themselves. Dominion, for example, is running a pilot program in Virginia in which it leases roof space from commercial customers and installs its own panels to study the benefits of a decentralized generation.

Featured in the July/August issue of Solar Today Magazine is our remedy for this issue. Solar energy through micro-investing could be a solution for both the utility company and the customer. The individual or business would invest in solar energy with a small monthly purchase, perhaps $5 per month, using the micro-investment plan. This would provide opportunities to for all rate payers to invest in solar projects that would directly benefit them through lower electricity rates and return on investment. It overcomes the financing and siting obstacles that can keep would-be investors on the sidelines. As an example, if all TVA ratepayers became micro-investors at a rate of $5 per month, each year TVA would generate $135 million for constructing solar farms. This model protects everyone’s interest.

Arizona leads states in per-capita solar energy

The report notes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have enacted effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.


Arizona leads the nation in per-capita solar energy, according to a report released Thursday.

Following Arizona, in descending order, are: Nevada, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico, California, Delaware, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Maryland.

The details are in a report titled “Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States,” released by the Environment America Research & Policy Center. The organization — online: www.EnvironmentAmerica.org — is a public interest group that advocates for strong environmental policy.

“The sky’s the limit on solar energy,” Rob Sargent, energy program director with Environment America, said in a news release. “The progress of these states should give us the confidence that we can do much more. Being a leader in pollution-free solar energy means setting big goals and backing them up with good policies.”

The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have enacted effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.

Reference: http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20130725/BUSINESS/130725020/Arizona-leads-states-per-capita-solar-energy-report-says

TVA Board Meeting August 22 in Knoxville

I have called TVA board information and requested when public comment will be accepted for this meeting. TVA will open the online speaking registry on the TVA board webpage one week before the board is scheduled to meet, which is tentatively set for Thursday, Aug. 22.

The agenda will also be posted at that time.
Please send board correspondence to:

TVA Board of Directors
Board Services
400 West Summit Hill Drive WT 6
Knoxville, TN 37914
You may also email board services at board@tva.gov.

public listening session which begins at 8:30 a.m. EDT

Do we want to control our energy future, or continue to rent it from other countries?

We will choose, either actively or subjectively

Do we want to control our energy future, or continue to rent it from other countries? This is the overarching question that we, the citizens of these United States, have to answer. It is decision making time. If we do not express our individual feelings about how our country moves forward to meet the energy challenges of today and of tomorrow, then we have only ourselves to blame. This question was raised by Hal Harvey, the chief executive of Energy Innovation, in an article by NY Times Thomas L. Friedman Op-Ed Columnist in a July 2, 2013. As Mr. Friedman so acutely points out. “We also have to ensure that cheap natural gas displaces coal but doesn’t also displace energy efficiency and renewables, like solar or wind, so that natural gas becomes a bridge to a clean energy future, not a ditch. It would be ideal to do this through legislation and not E.P.A. fiat, but Republicans have blocked that route, which is pathetic because the best way to do it is with a Republican idea from the last Bush administration: a national clean energy standard for electricity generation — an idea the G.O.P. only began to oppose when Obama said he favored it.”

Such a standard would say to every utility: “Your power plants can use any fuel and technology you want to generate electricity as long as the total amount of air pollutants and greenhouse gases they emit (in both fuel handling and its electricity conversion) meet steadily increasing standards for cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gases. If you want to meet that standard with natural gas, sequestered coal, biomass, hydro, solar, wind or nuclear, be our guest. Let the most cost-effective clean technology win.”

Is this consistent with the position that Senator Alexander has publicly stated, let the most cost-effective technology win? The one word omitted from the Senator’s message was the word “clean” which I am sure he would agree with having fought these many years for our natural resources such as preserving the environment of our own Smokies. Why not resurrect the Republican idea for a national clean energy standard for electricity generation? You must decide: “Is this in the best interests of our nation?”

Times article

US Utility Business Model Woes

Jennifer Runyon is managing editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com

Jennifer Runyon, managing editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com, had a three minute conversation with Dr. Stephen Chu, former Energy Secretary that emphasized the need for electric generators and distributors to change their business model to reflect the addition of renewables, particularly solar PV, as a significant addition to the energy mix. Chu feels that utilities ought to own solar panels and energy storage systems that they put on their customers’ roofs and in their garages. He said if utilities could outfit homeowners with solar panels and a 5-kW battery system, they could continue selling that customer power just as they do now. The utility would own the system, maintain the system and the customer would have no out-of-pocket expenses for it other than continuing to buy power at the same rate or at perhaps an even lower rate. This would nicely fit into the TVA distributors future business model for distributed solar installations while preserving the distributor’s mission of providing their customer base with high quality, reliable electric power.

When it’s just a quarter or a half of one percent of a utility’s customers that have their own PV and are selling their solar power to the grid at the retail rate, the utility doesn’t care. But energy storage and PV panel costs are dropping, and once that percentage of utility customers’ that are zeroing out their bill goes to 5, 10 or 15 percent then “it’s a big deal” said Chu.

Chu said he told utilities that PV and energy storage is going to come and they should “form a new business model” NOW so that what today is a potential revenue loss, could become an area of growth for them in the future. Plus, he said this model would eventually lead to a more stable grid for us all.

TSEA’s suggested micro-investment model suggested for TVA would complement the distributor’s suggested model, supplying solar energy at the most affordable prices with ownership of large solar farms in the hands of the ratepayer investors. The TSEA model avoids having to loan money from banks; instead, it will earn interest on the monies deposited in investments increasing the income the ratepayer investors make. The question is whether TVA and its distributors will accept these business model changes.

Runyon’s article

Energy Department Announces Over $16 Million for Innovative Small Businesses Focused on Energy Technologies

To highlight President Obama’s focus on small businesses as leaders in an economy built to last, Acting Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman today announced that the Energy Department will award 88 grants to small businesses in 28 states to develop clean energy technologies with a strong potential for commercialization and job creation.
original article

Campbell County, TN, Public Schools to Generate nearly $1M With Solar

The majority of public schools in Campbell County, Tenn., are going solar in a bid to make $960,000 over 20 years, without raising any additional taxes. That’s under a new partnership with residential and commercial solar installer Efficient Energy of Tennessee (EETN), which is installing solar at 12 of the county’s 21 schools.

The 12 schools in the program are installing 50-kilowatt solar systems, which will sell the power generated to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) through its local power distributor. Already, nine of the installations are complete and the remaining three are currently under construction, according to EETN. Under TVA’s Green Power Providers program, the TVA purchases all the output of the arrays at a premium of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour on top of the retail electricity rate. For years 11 through 20, participants are paid at the applicable retail rate.

“Not only are the solar installations at Campbell County’s elementary, middle and high schools a great STEM teaching tool but, they are generating funds for education without raising taxes,” said EETN President Robbie Thomas. “This financial model, of raising funds for education with solar energy, can be duplicated at school systems across the state of Tennessee.”
The school district, EETN and the Campbell County Finance Department were able to make the installations possible by issuing 15-year bonds. The bonds were used to finance the arrays and their installation. For the first 15 years, the installations are anticipated to produce between $12,000 and $14,400 in annual earnings, after paying all bond interest and principals. After the bonds are repaid, “Each installation will generate approximately $13,000 to $15,000 per year for Campbell County for years 16 through 20 of the power purchase agreement,” EETN said.

In all, the arrays can generate more than $960,000 over the 20 year contracts. The systems are expected to last between 30 and 35 years and could provide additional revenue or cost savings for the schools.

original article