Recent news of Tesla, Inc., taking $1,000 deposits for preorders of its solar roof tiles, powerwall batteries, and installation has sparked my interest in installing the energy system in my house as I imagine it has for many homeowners. It also sparked my curiosity as to how the availability of the new form of solar cells and other evolving technology will be addressed by state legislators.

At least 25 states prohibit or offer the ability to prohibit covenants or restrictions which would prevent the installation of solar-powered panels and associated devices. At least 10 states introduced legislation this year that would prohibit community associations from adopting or enforcing certain rules concerning solar energy systems. Utah enacted a rigid law in March which provides that an association may not impose restrictions that decrease the solar energy system’s production more than 5% or increases the solar energy system’s cost of installation by more than 5%. The Utah law was based on California statute. California permits reasonable restrictions but defines them as not significantly increasing the cost or decreasing the efficiency of the system. As it applies to solar panels, “significantly” means an amount not to exceed $1,000 over the system cost as originally specified and proposed, or a decrease in system efficiency of an amount exceeding 10% as originally specified and proposed.

CAI Legislative Action Committees (LACS) oppose most bills restricting solar panel restrictions due to the legislative overreach. CAI’s public policy on Conservation, Sustainability and Green Issues supports efforts by state legislatures to empower community associations to build consensus-based solutions regarding environmental initiatives and opposes government and interest group efforts to override community policy or deed restrictions on single interest issues. Our public policies on Aesthetics as an Economic Issue and Government Regulation of Community Associations also lend guidance to our LACs on this topic.

In 2015, a panel representing various interests in community associations convened for in-depth conversations about public policy concerns in the next 15 years. The panel recognized that associations are faced with the challenge of adapting to the new technologies within their own rules. Additional outdated or rigid laws like that found in Utah will only impede associations’ ability to accommodate to technology.

The panel found that laws should foster associations’ ability to accommodate evolving technologies. Instead of defining rigid restrictions, legislators should focus on encouraging community associations to implement energy conservation measures and to adopt renewable energy sources. Think of a different green issue: money, tax incentives. There is legislation in New York providing for such credit to associations, but for the purchase and installation of geothermal energy systems.

My simple hope is that as technology evolves and progresses so will the way our legislatures govern our communities.  And for me personally, I may not be able to afford a Model S, but chances are looking good that I may be a Tesla owner soon enough.

Photo Courtesy of Tesla

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Matthew Green

Director, State Affairs

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