California Homeowners Associations Blocking Solar Panel Plans


Photovoltaic Solar Panels on tiled roof

California might be running out of water, but many desert dwellers are trying to tap the Golden State’s most abundant renewable resource — the famous California sunshine.

When Palm Springs resident Ted Lorenzen decided to go green, he got permission from Southern California Edison to install 24 solar panels on his home’s roof. The local business Hot Purple Energy was all set for the installation.

Then his homeowners’ association got involved.

“It’s a joke, basically,” Lorenzen said. “It’s ridiculous.”

A letter from the Association of Desert Resort Management told Lorenzen that his application for solar panels was denied, citing “roof warranty, maintenance, site wide implementation and other issues involving the common area.”

More homeowners in the Coachella Valley decide to generate their own solar electricity every year, but homeowners’ associations are shutting down many residents’ solar ambitions. Some associations even require residents to pay pricey application fees up to $3,000, which can cancel out any savings solar panels might generate. That’s an expense many families can’t afford; on average, homeowners already spend up to 4% of their house’s value on maintenance and repairs every year.

In 2014, California drove record-setting growth in the solar industry. California made up more than half of all growth in new solar energy in the United States, a trend that continued into 2015.

California residents eager to contribute to that trend are often surprised to find their own homeowners’ association standing in their way.

“Many customers, I think, are sort of intimidated by their [homeowner association], and so they don’t want to get in a fight with them…A lot of them are bullies,” said Patrick Sheehan, the Vice President of Sales at Renova Solar.

Fortunately, Sheehan has an easy fix for frustrated residents.

The California Solar Rights Act was passed in 1978. It prevents homeowners’ associations from imposing certain restrictions on solar power systems that would decrease electricity output by more than 10%.

Even so, homeowners’ associations can still charge the same application fees that apply to all new construction projects. For some Californians, that’s all it takes to shut down their solar dreams for good.

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