The following guest column is written by David Dobs who is battling his Atlanta, Ga., area HOA over the right to install solar on his home. To learn more about David’s case and to support him and his wife in their quest to add solar to their home, check out the Vickery Lake Blocks Solar Facebook page.
As an electrical engineer with 35 years experience in the profession and as a consulting engineer, I have always had the dream of some day owning a solar-powered home. In March 2011, I completed a course of study in the design and installation of solar energy systems and passed a solar fundamentals exam given by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
After a detailed discovery process, I learned that an investment of $33,000 would be sufficient to install a solar panel system capable of meeting 100 percent of our home energy needs. After federal and state tax incentives totaling $20,000, my final cost would amount to $13,000.
The calculations I performed, which included the tax credits and incentive plans currently available, indicated the energy savings from the system would provide a complete payback of my investment within seven years. After that, the system would provide a net income for the remaining life of the system (about 20 years.)
We received a stern letter from the HOA that was breathtaking in its severity.
A solar dream
It seemed like my dream would now be easily within reach. (It should be noted that the tax incentive programs are time limited and there is no guarantee that they will be extended after a year or two.)
My wife, Angel, and I love our new home in the Vickery Lake subdivision, located in Cumming, Ga. We bought our home in 2010 and were encouraged to find that solar panels were listed in the Home Owners Association (HOA) covenants, along with other improvements that are commonly made by homeowners. Those covenants state: “Solar Panels – Submit for approval.”
Seeing no reasons not to pursue our hopes, we located a solar installation professional in the area, and filled out the application to have the installation approved by our HOA. We provided a detailed roof plan showing the solar arrays, and a conceptual photograph of their future installation.
116 tons of CO2 prevented
The concept photo showed solar panels located on side-roof areas which do not face the street. Our next door neighbor wrote a letter to the HOA Board of Directors in support of the project. We also submitted a report indicating cost payback within seven years, and noted the carbon dioxide gas production that we had calculated would be avoided: 116 tons over a 25-year period!
We also included information from a report that explains how solar installations increase property values, as noted in a US Department of Energy study.
Unfortunately, we have been quite surprised, and keenly disappointed by the events that have transpired since our initial application.
HOA rejection notice
We received a stern letter from the HOA that was breathtaking in its severity. The letter uses bold and CAPITAL typeface characters to state, in part:
“Your Architectural Modification Request for the installation of solar panels has been denied. Based on the request as presented, the Board has determined that this modification of the architecture of the residence in question is NOT ACCEPTABLE. The proposed request for modification is rejected by the Board of Directors.
While an appeal process is in place and is available to this member, please be advised that the Board of Directors are not interested in any further input on the “solar panel” request from the member that discusses or relates to any issue other than visibility from the front, back or sides of the residence.
The Board is NOT interested in hearing an appeal based on any debate related to cost, efficiency, engineering, green environment, fire hazard, durability, etc. The Board has accumulated sufficient information from our AAC committee, our residents, our covenants, our by-laws, our attorneys and the request document as presented to reach this proper decision.
We understand your intent to appeal this decision and ask that you schedule a date to present topics that only deal with the “visibility” issue.”
After first denying us an opportunity to meet to discuss the application, and after a lot of argument, the HOA board finally granted us an opportunity to meet, but only on the condition that the discussion be limited to ‘visibility’ issues.
We brought our solar professional to the next HOA meeting, and had a two-hour discussion with the Board members. In the meeting, the Board did admit the application process should have been handled more appropriately by their management company; but they were unshakeable on the decision to deny the application. We did, however, have a firm impression that the door was still open for approval if the visibility issue was dealt with satisfactorily.
Denied, denied, denied!
Thereafter, I did some research and found higher efficiency solar panels. This allowed for a reduction in the number of solar panels needed, from 30 to 16, and still allowed the system to be able to generate 85 percent of our energy needs! Here is the history of the application process:
Application to install 30 panels: DENIED.
Application to install 16 panels: DENIED.
Application to install 8 panels: DENIED.
Application to install 16 panels*: DENIED.
(*hidden from street view by three tall evergreen trees!)
As my wife, Angel, who is still flabbergasted by the decisions, said, “We submitted the application showing the trees as an experiment to test the unwritten rule: ‘The panels must not be visible from the street.’ ”
In effect, we called their bluff, but they found reasons to deny this application nonetheless. We firmly believe that it is unreasonable to require solar panels be hidden from view. Within a few years, the sight of solar panels will be commonplace everywhere in the world.
HOA: Solar harms property values
To date, every application denial has stated that the solar energy system would harm home property values within the community. Angel and I have challenged the Board to supply evidence to support their contention, but the board has ignored our request.
No one has provided any evidence that the installation of visible solar panels will result in lower property values. In fact, there is convincing evidence from many states in the U.S. that solar panels have a positive impact on communities where they are installed.
I have written the following to the Board: “It is puzzling beyond belief that the HOA Board continually states their reason for the denials is to ‘preserve the value of the homes in the development.’ ”
No one has provided any evidence that the installation of visible solar panels will result in lower property values.
There is convincing evidence from many states in the U.S. that solar panels have a positive impact on communities where they are installed. We assert that the increased value of our home will ultimately increase the comparative value of other homes in the Vickery Lake community.
Our federal, state and local governments support and encourage the residential use of solar panels. It’s an excellent home improvement that has many benefits.
The denials from our HOA repeatedly refer to what I call a ‘catch-clause’ in the covenants that allow any modification to be denied based solely on ‘aesthetics’, yet no objective definition of aesthetics is given regarding solar panels. However, aesthetics are defined in the covenants for items such as storm doors, fences and mail boxes.
I strongly believe that Georgians have a right to choose their energy source, including solar. Many Georgia Home Owner Associations ban or heavily restrict the installation of solar panels. At a time when energy prices are increasing sharply and fossil fuel use is adding greenhouse gases and pollution, the bans and heavy restrictions on solar panels should be overturned by state legislation once and for all, matching progress in many neighboring states.
Americans want more renewable energy
I believe that a majority of people want to see increased use of renewable energy and improve individual access to the technology. It is grossly unfair that a small number of people (an HOA Board and committee members) can so easily tie up progress in this area. Think of the growth and job opportunities for companies involved in manufacturing, selling, designing and installing renewable energy systems that is being stifled. Other states are far ahead of us here in Georgia.
We are not of a mind to back down on these issues. After the denial of our fourth application, we considered moving to a more progressive neighborhood. Instead, we decided to stay and continue working to convince people that change is necessary, and remain hopeful that we will eventually win approval to carry out our plans. Meanwhile, we feel it is important to inform our neighbors and the general public of these issues.
Editor’s Note: David has created a Facebook page with photos, highlights of events in their struggle to obtain permission to install their solar energy system, and also general news items related to solar energy.
David has also established an on-line petition to Georgia lawmakers. State Representatives Mike Dudgeon (R) and Karla Drenner (D) have offered to consider a bill to change Georgia law if sufficient grass-roots interest can be shown. David and Angel encourage all of their supporters to please take the simple action of signing the petition.
Angel would like you to know, “Solar energy installations are booming in my home state of Pennsylvania. I’m hoping that it won’t be too long before Georgia catches up. We need to do everything we possibly can to undo environmental damage and make a better world for our children and grandchildren.”