Legal access to sunshine is an extremely important consideration, especially in a city or other densely populated area. Who owns your sunlight? Surprise! In many parts of the United States, you don’t necessarily own your sunlight.
I did not get any easements, conveyable or otherwise, from my previous neighbors when I installed my 1.3 kW array in 1998. I had excellent solar access, which was one of the main reasons I bought a PV system. But in 2006, the house next door (14 feet away) was demolished and replaced with one that is five times larger and three times taller (it would have been four times taller if I had not complained loudly to the building department in a moment of unhappiness). Now, I have shade instead of sunlight and was told by city, county, and state officials that they sympathized, but I was out of luck. My only options were to sue (but I was told I would lose—wish I had tried anyway), or I could move my PV array at my expense. For a news story on my situation, see bit.ly/WinfieldNews.
Robert Winfield • via homepower.com
Robert’s cautionary tale warns us to make sure that we have the right solar access before installing solar. Using solar can get caught in the tension between one person’s rights infringing on another’s. As for who owns their access to the sun, it depends on where they are.
Some areas guarantee solar access to property owners by limiting buildings and vegetation on adjacent properties. When I installed my first solar energy systems in Ashland, Oregon, I registered the locations of my solar hot water collectors and photovoltaic array with the city, which informed my neighbors that they could not plant any new vegetation that might eventually block my solar access.
For my home solar systems in Washington, D.C., my solar access was coincidentally protected, as I live in a designated historic district that prevents building taller structures. The townhouse to the south is the same height as mine.
Solar access can also be guaranteed by deed restriction or easement, similar to those for protecting ocean-view properties. Such legal instruments may have been placed by the original developer or later in private transactions with payment or other consideration.
If your home is at too much risk of losing solar access—or doesn’t have it now—you may still be able to reap the benefits of solar energy. Legislation is pending in Congress that would allow homeowners to receive the 30% federal renewable energy tax credit for investing in community PV projects within 50 miles of their homes. For billing purposes, a utility would treat the electricity from your remote PV system as if it were on your house.
For complete listings of solar access, easement, and rights laws and regulations, see dsireusa.org.
Andy Kerr • andykerr.net