Will Zoning Laws Prevent Me from Putting Up a Solar Array?

I live in a condominium complex and our association has raised our Homeowners Association Dues many times over the last few years. I made a suggestion to the Board about the benefits of our community purchasing solar panels and installing them on our homes. They said that the state of California does not allow that based on local zoning laws. I was under the assumption that in 1989, when the state started subsidizing residential installation of solar panels, that the state deemed installing solar panels for energy crisis purposes superseded any zoning rules. Do you have any information on this and/or could you direct me to another website or organization that can help me? Thank you for your time! Pamela S, Laguna Hills, CA

You have not been told the truth. First, States do not control zoning laws – that is under local governments and sometimes they cede authority to local homeowner associations. Second, the State of CA has the largest promotional programs for both solar water heating and solar electric (photovoltaics) of any State in the Union, and the federal government also gives a 30% tax credit. On January 5, 2006, The California Energy Commission launched a new website encouraging installations of solar energy in new residential home construction. The New Solar Homes Partnership website is in response to the Governor’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative to create 3,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity in the state by the end of 2017. “Solar electricity is an environmentally friendly energy source that will be a significant part of California’s future energy supply,” said Commissioner Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. “The Energy Commission’s goal is to have reliable and current information available in one place for consumers and homebuilders.” This complements the program approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The Energy Commission will work with homebuilders and the building industry to accelerate the growth of photovoltaics (PV) in new home subdivisions, whereas the CPUC will focus on solar installations on existing residential and commercial buildings. A portion of the program funds will be allocated to special incentives for low-income and affordable housing. During 2006, residential and small businesses planning to install PV systems less than 30 kilowatts (kW) in size can continue to qualify for rebate incentives under the Energy Commission’s Emerging Renewables Program. Currently, the rebate is $2.80 per installed watt. The average household in California uses about 6,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year; a PV system in the 3 kW to 4 kW range would be adequate to meet most electricity needs. Over 50 percent of housing in America falls under the auspices of homeowner associations. Nearly 90 percent of the associations have restrictive covenants against solar. The industry, technical community, homeowners themselves, and public servants are trying to change these arbitrary rules. There are, however, numerous so-called “solar access” laws throughout many states that may be of help to you. These are designed to prevent overly zealous zoning ordinances from disallowing the installation of solar panels on homes and businesses. I would suggest you contact the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) and the California chapter of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), and ask them to help you advise your homeowner association on the benefits of solar, and they should find an attorney that can counsel your homeowner association on the law.
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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