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Environment

Solar Confusion

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The push to increase rooftop solar energy in Virginia is expanding, but some homeowner associations have prohibited solar panels in their communities. Most HOAs no longer have the power to deny property owners who want to install solar panels.

The law, passed last summer, expanded Virginia’s Energy Policy’s support for rooftop solar, but after some Blacksburg Home Owners Associations denied residents permission to put up the panels, solar advocates asked for clarification on the law.

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“Basically the only way that an HOA can have a prohibition on solar is if it’s in the recorded declaration," says southwestern Virginia Delegate Joseph Yost. He’s quoting from a letter he received last week with an official opinion from Attorney General Mark Herring. Unless specific prohibitions against solar installations were included in the HOA’s original founding documents, wrote Herring, they may not prohibit solar installations.

Yost says he asked for the clarification because communities all over Virginia could face the same confusion as not only state law, but also perceptions about rooftop panels are changing.

"They definitely have gotten smaller, they’ve gotten sleeker, they’re much more in line with the roof, so they’re much less an eyesore than they would have been in some people’s minds. I think a lot of those HOAs still had that frame set in mind, not realizing how solar has evolved over the last several years."

Delegate Yost says one of the HOAs which had denied a request for rooftop solar panels has agreed to allow them, now that the situations has been clarified. But while the law prohibits most restrictions against solar installations by the associations, it does allow them to make quote, “reasonable restrictions” about their installation. That prompted one solar advocate to say, now the question becomes what exactly is reasonable, now that state law includes a clause that supports the addition of solar energy in the commonwealth.

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