Town Sued for Solar Installation Restrictions

California’s generous incentives for solar energy are just one of the reasons why Akeena Solar recently installed a solar electric system on their office’s roof. Practicing what they preach was certainly another. In an ironic twist however, it seems the town would rather not allow any solar panels to mare the landscape in town.

Los Gatos, California – November 19, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Akeena Solar, which specializes in the design and installation of residential and commercial solar electric systems, has now filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California in the County of Santa Clara, against the town of Los Gatos. The company asserts the town unlawfully restricted the installation of solar electric panels on the company’s own commercial rooftop. The company installed a 2970 watt (DC rating) PV system on the flat roof of their office building in Los Gatos, California. Their solar electric system includes 18 Sharp NE-Q5E2U 165 watt modules mounted on a ballasted rack tilted at 30 degrees, connected to a SunnyBoy 2500U inverter. Akeena Solar is also testing the new Sharp SunVista 3500-watt inverter. The data acquisition system includes a SunnyBoy Control Plus integrated with a customized, web-based real time display system. In all however, it’s a relatively small, conservative solar array. Apparently not small enough for the local town ordinances. The company applied for a building permit for the solar electric system on the roof of their building in autumn of 2002. The installation was completed in December 2002; but the town refused to finalize the building permit since three of the solar panels were partially visible from the street. Akeena Solar appealed this decision to the Los Gatos Planning Commission May 2003 and to the Los Gatos Town Council in August 2003; both appeals were denied. Akeena Solar believes that the Town Council’s decision may violate the California Solar Rights Act, which was most recently amended by California Governor Gray Davis on September 11. In addition, this local government decision runs contrary to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign promise to install solar electric systems on 50 percent of new housing throughout California by 2005. “This lawsuit is the only legal remedy we have left,” said Akeena Solar President Barry Cinnamon. “We believe that the town of Los Gatos erred in their interpretation of their policies that apply to solar energy systems. It is very rare that an industry can help our economy and improve our energy situation while simultaneously improving the environment; so Los Gatos’ decisions are particularly difficult to understand.”
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