In a case that could affect thousands of proposed developments across North Carolina, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that a homeowners’ union in Raleigh — against and for the benefit of one of its residents — can have solar panels on its roof. , which has been the subject of controversy ever since. 2018
“Blue Raven Solar could not be happier with the court’s decision,” the company said in a press release. “As a solar contractor who has installed solar panels when issues arise, we support our customers closely and in our fight to make rooftop solar panels available and affordable for all.”
4-3, the bipartisan opinion is helping settle a long-standing dispute between the HOA and solar owners over the precise meaning of the 2007 Solar Access Act, which gives working communities less power to deny rooftop solar installations, which many people claim.
“This decision will clear a significant hurdle for North Carolina’s residential solar market,” said Peter Ledford, general counsel of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, in a press release.
Although solar panels are not mentioned in their rules, the Belmont Community Association argued for an exception to the law that gave its architecture committee sweeping powers to prevent the panels from being visible from the street.
On the other hand, Tom Farwig – who works with rooftop solar companies, clean energy advocates and the Attorney General – argued that the law requires all HOA restrictions on street-side modules to be clear.
The Court of Appeals agreed with Belmont, citing the law’s legislative history and its title to abolish the legislature, which sought to give homeowners associations broad powers to regulate solar energy.
But Judge Robin Hudson, a Democrat, said the lower court doesn’t have to look beyond the text of the law to determine whether it intends the HOA to impose any restrictions on Solar Clear.
“The Circuit Court of Appeals violates our rules of interpreting the law by applying the principles of construction where the law has clear meaning,” she wrote in the majority opinion, along with two other Democrats, Justices Sam Ervin and Anita Earle, and the Republican judges happened . Tamara Barringer.
Another exception to the law allows HOAs to relocate solar panels so long as the new location doesn’t preclude their “fair use.” But neither does Belmont, Hudson judged, because the panels on the north side behind Farwig’s house would lose about half their productivity.
“We believe that the restriction at issue here prohibits the installation of solar panels and the fair use of solar panels and accordingly the exception contained in subsection (c) of the Act does not apply,” Hudson wrote.
A quarter of all North Carolinians and about 40% of homeowners live in more than 14,000 HOA communities statewide. The court’s decision could bring new clarity to thousands of these possible developments since 2007. To stop streetside solar panels, homeowner associations must now explicitly do so in their agreements.
Bryce Bruncati, director of residential sales at 8MSolar, estimates that his company alone has 30 to 40 prospective clients who are denied permits each year, even though his HOA rules don’t apply to solar. He said that this decision is a big step for him.
“We now have dozens of customers who are excited to get their solar projects rolling,” he said. “It opens the door for a good chunk of people.”
Still, installers and advocates say a 2007 law could eliminate the ability to limit streetside solar installations altogether, specifying that HOAs can’t mandate placement, reducing productivity by more than 10%. House Bill 842, passed by the House of Representatives last year and eligible for Senate election, will do just that.
But Ledford of the Sustainable Energy Association says the bill would only apply to the hundreds of new HOAs created each year, not those since 2007. For the latter category, the court’s decision matters.
“The North Carolina Supreme Court has now upheld the legal right to solar energy,” said Lauren Bowen, senior attorney and director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s solar initiative. “Homeowners can now rest assured that their decision to switch to solar energy will not be arbitrarily rejected.”