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Homeowners associations can’t ban solar panels

Bill Sepmeier and Matthew Charles
Vail, CO, Colorado

Here’s a neat idea ” a town initiative that helps its citizens save money and do something good for the environment at the same time.

A new community in Florida was built with a solar thermal hot water system installed on each home. The entire community’s hot water needs is provided by the free power of the sun and the systems were paid for by the local energy utility at no additional cost to the residents.

Nothing’s free, you say? The utility issued a bond to buy the system hardware and is paying off the bond by selling the renewable energy credits retained by installing the solar thermal systems. Renewable energy credits are sold by the utility to private industries to offset fossil fuel pollution. The essence of the deal is that the utility purchases renewable energy via the credits as a show of good faith to the eco-minded public.

In this case the town government in Florida researched and, this is what’s really impressive, actually implemented a creative means to serve its residents, saving them thousands of dollars a year by reducing non-renewable energy consumption and lowering carbon dioxide emissions as well.

About a year ago Bill wrote a letter to the Vail Daily detailing the Florida energy project and suggested that local districts might want to study the concept. The only real negative feedback received was that “no homeowners association would ever allow this kind of solar thing” to be installed on rooftops in the Vail Valley.

This is still a very real speed bump along the road to environmentally friendly communities, or even homes for that matter. People around here just do not like the “look” of solar equipment and, as a result, renewable energy has been slow to catch on. But what’s less attractive, a few solar panels on rooftops now or a planet that is depleted of vegetation due to global warming later?

Don’t give up hope. There is a 1979 law in Colorado that states that having a solar energy system is the right of every property owner and that no homeowners association or design review board can legally deny the installation or operation of a solar system for “aesthetic reasons.” In addition, once a property owner has an operating system, she or he is presumed by law to have a “solar easement,” or the right to use the sun’s power, and no one can erect a structure nearby that would hamper operation of the system.

Today’s grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems have the capability to offset some or all of a home or office’s electricity consumption without complex battery banks or other maintenance.

Solar thermal hot water systems provide the best bang for the buck and can save enough energy in this climate to provide an average 28 percent return on investment.

Try to get that on Wall Street ” or anywhere else.

Under Eagle County’s new ECObuild regulations, it has suddenly become very expensive to melt snow from driveways or have large outdoor swimming pools or spas unless more than 51 percent of the home’s energy needs are met with renewable power sources. At $16 a square foot for snowmelting any area over 200 square feet, the new ECObuild fines can easily add into the tens of thousands of dollars for many residents.

The only way to avoid the fines will be through the installation of a renewable power system ” solar, wind, water, or other ” which, instead of being seen as an eyesore, adds real property value ” an average of 15 percent, according to Citigroup Mortgage ” and reduces carbon emission into the atmosphere by tens of thousands of pounds over its life. We can no longer afford to view something with this many positive benefits as ugly. It just doesn’t make sense.

It is our moral and economic responsibility, as well as a legal right, to put clean, efficient solar power to use at our homes and businesses.

In our next column we’ll explore different types of renewable energy technology available right here in the valley that make a “green” lifestyle possible. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it ” the sun’s power is a right, not a privilege here!

Bill Sepmeier is the CTO and Matthew Charles is the Communications Director of Grid Feeders, a provider of smart energy alternatives in Avon. Charles may be reached at matthew@gridfeeders.com


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