Rooftop, Solar

Test Case for Solar Rights Act Resolved

The bumpy, two-year disagreement between the Town of Los Gatos, California and solar PV installer Akeena Solar has officially ended with the town giving a permitting go-ahead for the installation of solar electric array on the company’s facilities. The situation became a test case between strict town planning and zoning boards and solar advocates claiming the right to install solar panels.

“Although it took over two years, we are very glad that we were able to come to an amicable resolution of the situation with the Town of Los Gatos,” said Barry Cinnamon, president of Akeena Solar. Cinnamon added diplomatically that “by encouraging solar systems on both residential and commercial buildings, Los Gatos is indeed ‘solar friendly’ and sets a notable example for the way in which environmentally friendly building practices can be integrated with charming, home-town aesthetics.” Designed as a sloped mansard roof, the 6 kW system also screens rooftop HVAC and electrical equipment from view at street level. This system provides all the electrical power required for the company’s office and warehouse operations. Originally proposed for installation in 2002, final approval of the rooftop solar electric system was delayed while Los Gatos worked out the issue of whether or not these systems had to be screened from view. The installation was completed in December 2002 but because three of the solar panels were visible from the street the permit was not approved. Akeena Solar appealed the decision to the town’s Planning Commission in May 2003 and to the Town Council in August 2003. Finally, in November 2003 Akeena filed a lawsuit to preserve its rights under the California Solar Rights Act. The debate between solar energy and aesthetics was the subject of national news coverage, including stories in the Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury News. To resolve this issue, Akeena Solar worked with the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CAL SEIA) to update the Solar Rights Act (California Civil Code Section 714) so that it would specifically apply to municipalities. When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed this updated Solar Rights Act on September 25th, 2004, Akeena Solar withdrew its lawsuit. “As solar power systems have become more popular, municipal restrictions on their installation have been more common,” said Les Nelson, Executive Director of CAL SEIA. “Los Gatos’ approval of Akeena’s visible solar system sets a practical precedent for all California municipalities that want to encourage this clean energy source.” For before and after photographs of the installation see the following link.