Encouraging Solar Development in HOA Communities

As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership, The Solar Foundation has been active in conducting solar outreach and providing technical assistance to local governments and communities interested in overcoming barriers to increased solar deployment. Today, we are pleased to announce the release of a new resource that represents an expansion in the Solar Outreach Partnership’s efforts to bring more solar to more communities across the nation.

Homeowners in communities governed by HOAs often run into administrative roadblocks when pursuing their desire to go solar, either discovering that the process of obtaining HOA approval is too complex or that restrictions present in architectural guidelines reduce or eliminate the economic benefit of investing in solar. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Processes is a new guide designed to educate homeowner association (HOA) boards and other leaders in these communities on how solar development can occur while respecting other legitimate community interests and without requiring HOAs to further cede their authority to govern. At the most basic level, The Solar Foundation came up with three simple actions HOAs can take to bring more solar to their communities:

Learn. The first key recommendation offered in the guide is that HOA boards and Architectural Review Committees (ARC) develop a solid understanding of the basic technical aspects of residential solar energy systems. In many states, HOAs are permitted (through state-level legislation known as solar rights provisions) to adopt and enforce restrictions on how and where solar energy systems are installed. Restrictions that affect system size, orientation, tilt, and shading can negatively impact the performance of a solar energy device and thus diminish the value of a homeowner’s solar investment. Because much of an HOA’s ability to restrict solar development is dictated by any solar rights provisions on the books in a given state, a significant portion of the guide focuses on helping readers understand the nature of these provisions.

Clarify. Another barrier to solar development in planned communities occurs when homeowners or solar installers do not clearly understand the restrictions that will apply to a given solar energy system, either because these restrictions are ambiguously worded or are not stated in a document readily available to the homeowner. For these reasons, our guide provides examples of various guidelines – developed to protect community interests such as aesthetics, tree preservation and planting, and health and safety – that simply and effectively communicate the design guidelines to which a proposed solar energy system will be expected to conform.

Collaborate. Finally, our guide recommends that leaders convene a neighborhood meeting open to relevant stakeholders in order to develop design standards that will be acceptable to the community as a whole. These meetings will allow community members to express their support for or reservations about solar development and provide a wide array of professional stakeholders an opportunity to advise on the creation of design guidelines that encourage the increased use of solar while protecting other community interests.

This guide (as well as a number of other great informational products produced by our team) is available for a free download from the Resources page of our website. Furthermore, The Solar Foundation and other members of the Solar Outreach Partnership are eager to help your community put our recommendations into practice through our complimentary Technical Assistance program.