NEWS: Fighting for Solar Panels

Homeowners associations across the country are proving substantial obstacles to residential solar development.  They claim they are protecting property values by maintaining control of all aspects related to aesthetics.

Real estate attorney Marc Weinberg in Camarillo, California sued the Spanish Hills Homeowners Assn. when they rejected his application to put solar panels on his roof.  Spanish Hills requested that he move the panels to the back of his house, a move that would have resulted in a 40% loss in efficiency.  Weinberg sued under California’s Solar Rights Act of 1978, which protects consumers’ right to install solar energy technology.  He came out victorious and the Assn. was ordered to allow the solar panels and also to cover the tens of thousands of dollars associated with Weinberg’s legal fees.  Weinberg proceeded to install a double row of black matte panels and no longer pays what sometimes reached a $500 per month electric bill.  He has even earned a $60 credit for sending excess energy back to California’s state grid.  Three other homes in the neighbored have followed suite and installed panels.  Weinberg acknowledges, “We didn’t set out to be green activists.  That’s not where we’re coming from.  We honestly looked at it from a financial standpoint.”

Similar struggles are occurring all over California as utility costs rise and solar installation becomes more affordable.  Small solar system installation costs are down 9% from last year and larger installations have increased by 13%.

However, not all legal battles have happy endings.  When Marty Griffin of Santa Clarita was denied permission to put up solar panels, he did it anyway.  The Tesoro Del Valle Homeowners Assn. sued him and the jury forced him to relocate the panels to a more discreet spot, which will cost Griffin $8,000.  Griffin defends that he installed the panels without permission because the process took too long.  Delay seems to be a common tactic.

In addition to California, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida have also passed state laws protecting the right to solar energy.  Solar industry advocates are now pushing for a federal version.  The House has moved energy legislation that includes a provision making it illegal for homeowners associations to prohibit solar installations.  It is unsure whether or not the Senate will keep the same language in their version.  Solar advocates are forming a lobby group to ensure their position is voiced.  If such regulatory hassles were limited, related job growth would occur more rapidly along with U.S. energy independence.  Raymond Walker, the government affairs spokesman for Houston-based Standard Renewable Energy encourages, “We want to make this into a real industry, and we’re trying to make sure the regulatory landscape is clear so this can take off.”  He estimates that his firm lost $2 million in jobs this year because of homeowner groups.

To learn more about such cases, check out this LA Times article.

A Dispatch by SSC Intern Lila Holzman