The Saga of Solar Panels

 

We applied for a permit to install solar panels on the roof of our house in Great Island of Plymouth in September 2013. For those who may not know our convoluted bureaucracy, Great Island Homeowners Association is a subsidiary of Pinehills Landowners Association which is a part of the Town of Plymouth. In order to get a permit for any construction a homeowner must jump through six (6) bureaucratic hoops: Great Island Design Review Committee, Great Island Board of Directors, Pinehills Design Review Committee, Pinehills Landowners Association, Pinehills LLC Board of Directors and, finally, the Town of Plymouth which will not issue a permit without the approval of the five previous entities. In August 2013, after a year of deliberations, the Pinehills issued design guidelines for the installation of solar collectors. They prohibited homeowners from renting their roofs to the solar installers and to install the panels on the ground. In November the Great Island issued their own, more restrictive guidelines that prohibited solar panels on the roofs that face streets and demanded a $100 nonrefundable fee for an unknown third party that was supposed to identify our neighbors who may see the panels (God forbid!). Apparently, the Pinehills didn’t like these prohibitions and rejected their guidelines. While these guidelines were (and still are) being negotiated, the Pinehills issued two approvals to us and another household in December. But even that happened only because an independent lawyer reminded the local authorities of Massachusetts Solar Access Law Chapter 184: Section 23C: “Any provision in an instrument relative to the ownership or use of real property which purports to forbid or unreasonably restrict the installation or use of a solar energy system as defined in section one A of chapter forty A or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy shall be void.” Also, Section 3. Solar Rights Law says: “A community association shall not adapt and shall not enforce any rule related to the installation or maintenance of solar collectors, if compliance with such rules inhibits the solar collectors from functioning at their maximum efficiency.” The question remains: why do homeowners have to hire a lawyer to enforce an existing law? We still don’t understand why our Homeowners Association broke the state law and why nobody prosecuted them for doing so. The only explanation for their obstinacy that the Board of Directors provided was their concern for our neighbors who may not like the looks of the panels (!?). Obviously this absurd reasoning doesn’t stand any reasonable examination. Since when the aesthetic predilections of a few trump a lawful measure that benefits many? Since when the bureaucratic rules of local authorities trump state laws? Many people don’t like the looks of many things. Some people don’t like the looks of high voltage electric towers but they use electricity to light, cool and heat their homes. Solar panels on the roof make our homes independent from power plants that burn oil, gas and coal to produce electricity. The solar panels use the power of the sun to create electricity without polluting air, water and soil of this planet. That’s why governments promote solar panels and distribute grants and tax incentives to people who invest in solar power. Some Homeowners Associations around the country worry about home values that may be affected by solar panels. Those worries are also groundless because every $1 saved in electricity by solar panels increase the home value by at least $20 (see www. northamericansolarstores.com). Obviously, there is no reasonable explanation of the HOAs opposition except their thirst for power and vanity. So, the battle between them and people who want to use clean energy continues. Instead of investing money in clean energy people spend money on lawyers to sue the HOAs who break the laws! Communal living has many advantages and we like them, but some community regulations are gone berserk. Homeowners associations became a government within the government and dictators within the United States’ democracy. The ease with which some of our democratic principles get perverted for the sake of conformity is frightening. Unfortunately, Great Island Homeowners Association proved to be even more dictatorial than many similar institutions.