Solar Power Systems Require Careful Planning

As solar power generation become more and more mainstream, it is important to be aware of the various state and local restrictions on their use.   These laws are based on the laws of land use, environmental law, zoning and governmental regulation.   California has passed the Solar Rights Act and the Solar Shade Control Act to regulate the rights and obligations of landowners wishing to install and use solar power, and protects the rights of the landowner from abuse from neighbors or local governments.

The California Solar Rights Act (the “Act”) was passed in 1978, and creates a legal framework for solar access.  The Act was meant to balance the rights of individual solar energy system owners with the rights of other property owners.   It limits the ability of homeowner associations (HOAs) to enact covenants, conditions and restrictions restricting solar installations, and creates the legal right to a solar easement.  The act allows residential homeowners, developers and commercial property owners to install or incorporate solar panels on their properties, either as part of an existing project, a new project, or even to install a “solar farm”.  According to Anthony Marinaccio, an associate at Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin, a City of Industry law firm, quoted in a recent article on GlobeSt.com, the Solar Rights Act “empowers developers to incorporate solar energy systems into the projects by barring cities, counties, and other local governments from establishing obstructions to the installation of solar energy systems and by streamlining the issuance of permits for such systems.”  In California, Marinaccio says, “there is a near absolute right to install solar energy systems as long as there will not be an adverse impact upon public health or safety.”

The Solar Shade Control Act, (the “Shade Act”) passed in 1978 and revised in 2008, provides protections for solar installation owners from shade caused by neighboring trees and shrubs.  The Shade Act attempts to balance the desire to plant trees and shrubs for shade and visual appeal with the desire to increase the use of solar energy, which can be hindered by shade from neighboring trees and shrubs.  The Shade Act contains specific and limited controls of trees and shrubs in order to protect nearby solar energy systems.  According to Matthew Gorman, a partner at Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin, also quoted at GlobeSt.com,  “Other property owners are prevented from growing trees that will cast a shadow on greater than 10% of the solar collector’s absorption surface at any time between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.”

It is important for any California landowner, residential or commercial, to be familiar with these two acts when planning a solar power energy system in any development.  While California may be a leader in protecting the rights of landowners to build and use solar energy systems, other states, especially in the Southwest, have passed or are considering legislation dealing with alternative energy generating systems, and it would be prudent to consult with a local expert while planning such a system.

For additional information on these California acts, I recommend the following articles:

  1. California’s Solar Rights Act, A Review of the Statutes and Relevant Cases, by Scott Anders, Kevin Grigsby, Carolyn Adi Kuduk and Taylor Day, January, 2007, updated April, 2010, by the Energy Policy Initiatives Center of the University of San Diego School of Law.  http://www.sandiego.edu/epic/research_reports/documents/100426_SolarRightsAct_FINAL.pdf
  2. California’s Solar Shade Control Act, A Review of the Statutes and Relevant Cases, by Scott J. Anders, Kevin Grigsby, Carolyn Adi Kuduk and Taylor Day, January, 2007, updated March, 2010, by the Energy Policy Initiatives Center, University of San Diego School of Law.  http://www.sandiego.edu/epic/research_reports/documents/100329_SSCA_Final.pdf

 

 Caveat:  The information in this article is for informational purposes only.  The author is not licensed to practice law in California, and any statements in this article should not be considered a statement of law nor a legal opinion on the subject matter discussed.

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