Solar panels cause clashes with homeowner groups

By Ray Henry

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 25 2012 2:30 a.m. MDT

He first proposed installing 30 panels on two areas parallel to the slope of his roof. People could have seen sections of the three-by-five-feet panels as they walked or drove along the street.

The homeowners association rejected that request and three others from Dobs.

Board member Jim Graham said that to win approval, the panels would probably need to be out of view, perhaps mounted in a backyard and obscured by a fence — though fences too are subject to association approval.

Graham said that if people don't like the rules, they are free to buy elsewhere.

"They chose to come into this community," he said.

Lawmakers in Georgia tried to resolve the problem with legislation giving homeowners associations the rest of the year to decide whether to ban solar panels. Any neighborhood that did not set a ban by next year would be unable to stop a homeowner from installing solar panels in the future.

There were limits. Homeowners associations could restrict the panels to roofs or fenced-in backyards and patios. They could require that panels be installed parallel to the slope of a roof and ban any backyard solar equipment that rose higher than the surrounding fence.

Even in states that give homeowners the right to install solar panels, homeowners associations still ban them.

Neighborhood leaders in a Salem, Ore., subdivision rejected Larry Lohrman's request to install solar panels on his roof because their rules banned the equipment, Lohrman said. He successfully argued that a 1979 solar rights law made that ban illegal, and he and a neighbor helped the association draft guidelines governing the installation of solar panels.

His panels were installed and started producing power in 2010, though Lohrman said he nearly abandoned the effort in frustration during the year it took to write the new guidelines for his homeowners association.

"They're just afraid that someone's going to put up this big, honking ugly thing that reflects light and just looks ugly," he said.

Associated Press reporter Kate Brumback contributed to this report.

Follow Ray Henry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rhenryAP .

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