I think it’s no surprise that the rising wave of solar power will soon be hitting homes across Utah. The question that remains yet to be seen is: will homeowner associations (HOAs) in Utah be positioned to catch that wave and ride it gracefully to the beach or will they be caught with our back to the wave and get tumbled under the water and dashed into the beach by the surging tide?
House Bill 451, run in the Utah 2016 Legislative Session by Congressman V. Lowry Snow, was at the front edge of the coming solar wave. This bill was a first attempt at finding a common ground between large corporate solar businesses and the HOAs of Utah. HB 451 did not pass due, in part, to the late date at which it entered the session and in part to opposition by HOA advocates in the state such as UCCAI (Utah Chapter of the Community Association Institute) and LAC (Legislative Action Committee for the Utah Chapter of CAI). At the end of the day, everyone agrees that we need to get ahead of the game and not be playing catch up as the demand for solar power grows in Utah.
According to an article written by Amy Joi O’Donoghue for the Deseret News on May 22, 2016, Utah was identified by the US Department of the Interior as one of six states in the country with “prime solar potential”. Nearly 680 megawatts of commercial solar energy is currently in development in central and southern Utah, and by next year that commercial solar energy capacity is expected to reach 850 megawatts, which is more than all of the commercial wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass energy combined.
The demand for residential solar power has also seen a sharp spike in the last several years. In 2009 only 153 applications were processed for solar tax credits in Utah. In 2015 that number had jumped to 3061 applications. It is not surprising that with the increased efficiency of solar panels and more companies competing for business driving the cost of solar power down, residential consumer demand is on the rise. The questions we need to ask, before it is too late, are: how does this affect HOAs and what can we do to come up with a plan that allows for solar panels be installed on homes within HOAs in a fashion that is both cost effective and not at odds with the CC&Rs or other governing documents for an HOA.
Some people may ask why an HOA would care if solar panels are installed within their community. Many HOAs have architectural guidelines that would need to be modified to allow for solar panels. This is very common in single family home subdivisions that are part of an HOA and are governed by CC&Rs and specific architectural guidelines, which may include specific requirements for roof types, color schemes, fencing, landscaping, and any other exterior modifications to the homes within the community.
Some HOAs, such as condominiums and other types of attached housing may completely restrict or prohibit owners from making any exterior modifications to the buildings in the community, including the addition of solar panels. Typically in condominiums, and some other types of attached housing developments, the HOA, rather than the individual owners, owns and maintains the exteriors of the buildings. Adding solar panels on a roof or a wall or common area that are jointly owned by all of the community owners would create a whole host of problems.
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