Homeowner associations (HOAs) are often the bane of people’s lives, governing community appearance and deciding what improvements people can make to their home exteriors – from garden gnomes to solar panels.
Rooftop solar panel installation image via Shutterstock
Since HOAs represent over 63 million people living in 26 million housing units in America, and 13 million of these units are suitable for residential solar installations, overcoming administrative roadblocks to adding solar panels could be a boon for our clean energy future.
Unfortunately, homeowners in communities governed by HOAs can often run into administrative red tape when seeking approval for solar installations or lose energy output and the economic value of solar power via rigid architectural guidelines.
HOA Rooftop Solar’s 3.3GW Potential
Good thing then, that The Solar Foundation (TSF) has just released a guide outlining best practices for HOA boards to installing residential solar in managed communities. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a part of the US Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot initiative, and it covers potential hurdles to HOA solar development from architectural guidelines to homeowner rights.
Rooftop solar in HOA communities represent a massive potential boost for our transition to a clean energy future. According to TSF, if 5% of the 13 million solar-suitable HOA housing units installed an average-sized residential solar system, they would add 3.3 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity to the grid – the same amount of solar added across America in 2012.
Less Emissions, More Home Resale Value
That solar surge would equal an annual reduction of 6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking over 1.1 million vehicles off our roads. TSF estimates the average solar module takes two years to generate enough electricity to offset the emissions created by manufacturing it, making them carbon negative soon into the life of an average 25-year solar module warranty.
Beyond environmental benefits, HOA solar installations could also increase home resale values. TSF cites a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showing home resale values increase $17,000 with a solar system, and a DOE finding that homes with solar sell twice as fast as homes without solar – in any real estate market setting.
Overcoming HOA Solar Barriers In Three Steps
Despite these environmental and economic benefits, homeowners in HOAs are often prevented from going solar. Barriers like tree preservation and planting, legal responsibility for electrical work and other safety issues, and concerns about community aesthetics have stymied many solar home hopefuls, but can be overcome through three steps.
TSF’s first recommendation is to develop a solid understanding of the basic technical aspects of residential solar systems. This may seem trivial, but many states permit HOAs to enforce restrictions on how and where solar panels are installed.
US solar rights laws map via The Solar Foundation
These solar rights provisions cover system size, panel orientation and tilt, and shading – any one of which can reduce system efficiency and power output. Since the economics of residential solar hinge on power output and payback period, solar rights are a huge deal. TSF notes 22 states have passed legislation protecting solar rights, limiting HOA control over homeowner solar access and creating solar easements protecting a system from future obstructions.
Another best practice for HOAs to follow is setting rules that clarify what’s permissible for residents who want to install solar. Clearly specifying reasonable restrictions on solar development and publishing them in HOA architectural guidelines can reduce the “hassle factor” of HOA applications and streamline the decision-making process.
TSF recommends HOAs set guidelines on community aesthetics (such as how visible panels can be), tree preservation and planting (like future height and shade), and building codes (including product certifications and electrical installation).
Finally, HOAs should collaborate – both with other HOAs and their residents. TSF suggests HOAs convene local stakeholders to collaboratively develop association guidelines that start with existing language borrowed from other HOAs and work for each community’s specific circumstances.
Election Signs No, Rooftop Solar Yes
So while HOAs are almost certainly going to still be ground zero for legal battles over pressing issues like election lawn signs and the color of aluminum siding, at least TSF’s guide may help clear the clouds blotting out a residential solar future.
New Solar Guide Could Tap 3.3GW Potential Of HOA Communities was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook (also free!), follow us on Twitter, or just visit our homepage (yep, free).Continue reading
Homeowners’ right to solar and the solar industry’s fight to cut rooftop solar soft costs could both get a boost from a new effort to educate neighborhood associations.
“This makes the case for solar directly to homeowner association (HOA) members and their review committees,” explained author Philip Haddix of The Solar Foundation’s report, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Processes. “It tells them how they can allow more solar while fulfilling their responsibility to protect community interests and without ceding their authority.”
This issue is a subset of the soft cost discussion, Haddix said. “It is not quantified in the studies on soft costs but it is a permitting or planning and zoning issue. If there was a way to quantify this as a cost, it would be in the time lost dealing with the HOA.”
The opportunity is big. There are over 25 million housing units in HOA-governed communities and 52 percent of them (13 million) are suitable for residential solar, according to the report. An average-size solar system on just 5 percent of them would be “3.3 gigawatts, as much solar energy as was added in the entire U.S. in 2012.”
The major HOA concerns are:
- Community aesthetics
- Tree preservation and planting
- Health and safety
- Array size
- Array orientation
- Array tilt
- System shading
Difficulties arise from people not knowing about HOA restrictions, deciding to ignore them, or not knowing on what basis the HOA will judge the system, Haddix said. In some cases, a dispute can result in a lawsuit.
Whether an HOA is pro-solar or flat out against it, Haddix said, rules that are clearly delineated produce a better outcome.
There are Solar Rights Provisions in twenty-two states, Haddix said. Though far from standardized, provisons help guide HOAs. “Generally, people are better off with solar rights laws because they don’t allow HOAs to prohibit solar,” Haddix said. “The homeowner automatically has the right to have a solar system.”
Solar Rights Provisions fall into four broad categories:
- Type I: No Limits on Restrictions
- Type II: Undefined “Reasonable” Restrictions
- Type III: Qualified “Reasonable” Restrictions
- Type IV: Quantified Restrictions
Type III is slightly more common. Type IV, which quantifies restrictions, is better, according to Haddix, but Arizona’s Type III Provision proved important in a recent court fight:
“In Garden Lakes Community Association vs. William Madigan, et al., the Arizona Court of Appeals found that the association’s requirement that homeowners adopt (what were ultimately considered) impractical or costly placement and screening measures 'effectively prohibited' the installation and use of a solar energy system, even though solar was not expressly prohibited by the community’s architectural guidelines.”
“The Court said the rule had the effect of prohibiting solar,” Haddix explained, “and the Arizona solar rights provision says an association can make ‘reasonable restrictions’ but can’t make rules that ‘effectively prohibit’ solar.”
Common elements in Solar Rights Provisions include:
- Statement of Legislative Intent
- Voiding Prohibitions Against Solar
- Allowable Restrictions
- Applicability to Structures
- Awarding of Attorney’s Fees
- Grandfathering Clause
- HOA Policy Creation Mandate
- No Avoidance or Delay
- Provisions for Ground-Mounted Systems
The paper makes three recommendations for HOAs:
- Improved processes and rules through understanding solar and how restrictions can negatively affect system performance
- Improved clarity, specificity, and accessibility of association solar guidelines
- Stakeholder meetings to produce practical guidelines that reflect community needs and values
“The bottom line,” Haddix said, “is that informed, well-crafted, and clearly written guidelines for solar can allow more solar and minimize solar-related disputes between homeowners and HOAs while at the same time protecting other legitimate community interests and without requiring HOAs to cede their governance authority.”
This article originally appeared on GigaOM Pro, GigaOM’s premium research service.
The U.S. market is forecast to install 4.4 GW of solar panels this year, a 33 percent increase from 2012, thanks in part by an expected surge in residential installations, according to a report released Tuesday.
The country added 723 MW of solar panels in the first quarter of 2013, up 33 percent from the first quarter of 2012, said the report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. The anticipated growth in 2013 would be slower that what took place in 2012, when the amount of new solar generation jumped 76 percent.
The growing popularity of solar leases, falling prices for solar panels and efforts to reduce the costs of marketing, sales and permitting, have steadily boosted the growth of the solar market in recent years. The pace of installation has quickened, in particular, in the residential market, which grew 53 percent from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013.
While federal, state and other local incentives still play a big role in the overall expansion of the solar market, their important will likely diminish as the incentive programs come to an end and solar companies, from manufacturers to installers, find ways to adjust and continue to grow their business.
The report highlighted California as a local market in which state incentives for residential systems have disappeared in two of the three big utilities’ territories, yet installation pace has continued to grow. Solar companies in California reported that they are increasingly able to install solar energy systems that could produce electricity at rates comparable to the retail prices charged by major utilities even if they use only the federal tax credit that covers 30 percent of the price of a system.
From the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of this year, the national average price for residential solar systems fell 15.8 percent to reach $4.93 per watt.
Declining state incentives is crimping the growth of the commercial market segment, which serves businesses, government agencies and other non-residential, non-utility customers. This segment is set to grow 18 percent in 2013; in 2012 it grew 29 percent, the report said.
Commercial installations tend to be larger, and customers want as short a pay-back period as possible and expect good energy savings by going solar. Those savings could be harder to achieve with lower subsidies. Commercial installations fell from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of this year in key market such as California, Arizona, Hawaii and Massachusetts. New Jersey bucked the trend by growing 50 percent quarter over quarter.
The average price for commercial systems fell 15.6 percent to reach $3.92 per watt year over year.
The utility market, in which solar power projects are built for utilities or for selling power to utilities, will likely set a record by installing 2.3GW of solar panels in 2013. The first quarter of this year saw the completion of 24 utility scale projects. The average price for a utility system dropped 26 percent year over year to reach $2.14 per watt during the first quarter of 2013.
Not all utility-scale projects use solar panels. Concentrating solar power technology, which uses mirrors to concentrate and direct sunlight onto solar cells or a steam-producing boiler for running a turbine generator, is set to make its mark this year. Over 900 MW of concentrating solar power projects will likely be installed in 2013, the report said. That will increase the overall solar energy generation projects in 2013 to 5.3 GW.
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Southern California Edison (SCE) is preparing to issue the utility’s third solicitation under the "Solar Photovoltaic Program" (SPVP) for large rooftop and carport systems. The utility will open the program to applications in September 2013, with all potential participants to bid a price per unit of delivered electricity, with projects then to be constructed within 18 months of contract approval. This program has significant capacity in this solicitation round and future planned rounds.
This is a significant opportunity for large commercial property owners in Southern California. REC Solar and our partners can assist with all phases of qualifying, planning and project development. Those in SCE territory interested in using commercial rooftop or parking lot space to generate revenue with solar should contact REC Solar today.Continue reading
The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) launched an ambitious new 100 megawatt feed-in-tariff program for commercial solar projects earlier this year. As expected, demand for this program in the initial application period was extremely high.
LADWP plans to offer a total of five 20 megawatt allocations – one every six months – on a first-come, first-serve basis for systems sized 30 kilowatts to 3 megawatts. The program will reopen for new applications on July 1, 2013, for a fixed price of $0.16 per kilowatt-hour ($0.13 per kWh for projects in the Owens Valley) for all electricity produced by the solar system, plus a time-of-day multiplier. This is a potentially lucrative opportunity for commercial property owners in the region. For more information, please contact REC Solar.
Additionally, LADWP plans to reopen the commercial Solar Incentive Program (SIP), which provides an upfront incentive for businesses that install solar to offset their facility’s energy use on July 1. Demand also tends to be high for this particular program. When it was last made available in mid-2012, capacity was consumed in just 18 minutes. This is the last year of this particular program as it will not be offered again in 2014.Continue reading
To grow fine wines, a vintner must have precise amounts of sunshine, moisture and fertilizer to produce grapes at the peak of their perfection. With all the attention wine lovers focus on climate and weather, designer Michael Jantzen has decided to put a similar emphasis on a house that reflects the needs of vintners.
The result is the Solar Vineyard House concept, a smaller version of a similar plan Jantzen had proposed last year for a large winery operation. In this latest version, the house would be designed specifically for wine aficionados in the temperate wine country of coastal California. In addition to being influenced by the wine-making process, the house design also has several sustainable features that can help reduce its carbon footprint.
Architect Michael Jantzen’s plan for a house that merges with the rows of a vineyard. Image via Michael Jantzen.
Measuring 5,000 square feet in area, the Solar Vineyard House would be suitable as both a residence and as a small wine-making operation, Jantzen says. The rounded contours of the house would not only be surrounded by vineyards but also made almost a part of the vineyard grid. The wooden pathways through the vineyard rows, made of sustainably harvested timber, meet the sides of the house directly and are carried up of over the partially glassed-in roof, continuing on again through the rest of the vineyard. The overall effect makes the house resemble a smooth boulder that has been left in a field while the land around it is cultivated.
A conception of the lower floor of the structure, containing the vats for the wine-making operation. Image via Michael Jantzen.
In between the paths of wooden slats arcing over the house, four long, narrow strips of solar panels are incorporated into the south side of the structure, providing most of the electrical needs of the house. Natural ventilation for the interior would be provided by open window on either end of the sideways barrel-shaped structure. Broad overhangs over the windows would also provide additional shade from the California sun.
On the south side, alternating strips of solar panels will provide electricity needs. Image via Michael Jantzen.
Rainwater will also be collected from the roof and contained in storage tanks for reuse as irrigation and for other non-potable uses around the house. The extensive use of glazing will provide natural daylight illumination, which will be filtered through the strips of slatted-wood panels.
The entire shape of the Solar Vineyard House is meant to echo both the rolling hills of California wine country and also the cylindrical barrels and fermentation tanks used in the process. The upper level, containing a smaller arc than the lower floor, would contain the residential and social activity areas. The ground floor would contain space for equipment used in the wine-making process, which Jantzen envisions mounted on wheels for easy portability.Continue reading
This is getting real, folks. California legislators voted this week to advance two different bills that open up access to solar to the 75+ percent of energy customers who can’t put it on their own roof. Here’s the skinny on the two bills and what we need you to do to make sure shared solar becomes a reality in California this legislative session.
Senate Bill 43, authored by longtime solar champion Senator Lois Wolk, creates a 500MW pilot program that would enable customers of PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E to sign up to participate in shared renewable energy facilities, and receive a credit on their utility bill for the energy produced by their share of the project. SB 43 was approved by the California Senate Thursday on a 27-9 vote.
Assembly Bill 1014, authored by Assemblyman Das Williams, builds off a settlement agreement currently before the CPUC to create a “Green Option” tariff program, which was negotiated this spring between investor-owned utility PG&E, ratepayer advocates, environmental advocates, and unions. AB 1014 expands this program to the state’s two other major utilities: SCE and SDG&E. AB 1014 was approved by the Assembly Friday on a 55-17 vote.
Vote Solar has been working with a broad coalition of allies to support the bills’ passage (see our coalition website here), and we’re thrilled to have reached this milestone. Now we’ve got to keep the pressure on to make sure we get the best possible outcome as these bills continue to move through the legislature. There are a couple key provisions at stake:
1. Letting the market innovate. SB 43 allows organizations developing shared renewable energy projects to interface directly with customers; they could market their projects to customers and charge them for their share of the clean energy generation. AB 1014 puts the utility in the middle of this transaction, so that customers pay the utility for clean energy at a set rate, and the utility in turn buys the energy from developers. This limits the ability of the market to innovate and create offerings tailored to customer interests, whether it be specific project locations, technologies, or financing needs. We believe AB 1014 should, at minimum, contain provisions that allow the market to innovate within the green tariff to meet customer desires, so more people buy in, and we get more clean energy powering our homes and businesses, faster.
2. Making sure customers get a fair deal. Whether it’s the utility or a third party that’s signing contracts with consumers, we have to make sure that the terms of those deals provide a fair value for the clean energy generation. SB 43 proposes to accomplish this by asking the Public Utilities Commission to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine what the renewable energy is worth, then participants’ bill credit equal to that value – pretty straightforward. AB 1014 adopts the credits and charges for participants outlined in the PG&E-TURN proposed settlement, which include benefits of renewables as the CPUC determines them but also includes departing load charges that customers would have to pay in order to participate in shared renewable energy projects. We’ll need to stay vigilant as these bills move forward to ensure the provisions around pricing are fair to consumers.
Getting the specifics of the policy design right will be critical, or course, for creating a healthy, well-functioning shared renewables market in California. But we are on the brink of a major step: allowing thousands of Californians who can’t put renewables on their own property – renters, businesses, schools, churches, the military, public agencies – to invest in more clean energy for the first time. The momentum in the Legislature shows that shared renewable energy is a truly an idea whose time has come. Maybe that’s because it’s common sense – give Californians more control over their individual energy choices, create new jobs in an industry that’s here to stay, bring more clean energy to our communities. Win-win-win.
To learn more about shared renewable energy projects and policies across the country, visit www.sharedrenewables.org .