Solar power gains favor
* Safety, as well as aesthetics, still being debated
California leads the nation in the total number of solar-powered homes. This year Lancaster became the first U.S. city to require new homes to average at least one kilowatt of solar power each. The El Dorado Hills Community Services District Covenants, Code and Restrictions Committee has seen an upswing in solar requests too and the first green park, Windsor Point, was dedicated earlier this month.
“With the increase in energy rates, there’s lots of momentum to go solar,” said El Dorado Hills resident and chairman of the CC&R committee, Allan Priest.
The news hasn’t been all positive. El Dorado Hills’ Blackstone community was featured in a television news segment for recent fires sparked by solar tiles literally melting roofs. According to the report, upwards of 200 homeowners are embroiled in a battle with builder Centex after the solar roof manufacturer, Applied Solar, went out of business in 2009.
“Those roofs were made with integrated solar tiles,” said Priest. “They integrate seamlessly, but there have been problems with them. More homeowners are buying 5-foot-by-2-foot or 4-foot-by-2-foot compartmentalized panels instead.
“It’s all about electrical,” Priest explained. “If installed properly and to code, solar panels are perfectly safe.”
Safe solar panels can still be a headache if done to excess, said Hills of El Dorado resident Joe Bartol.
“I have neighbors installing more solar panels than they can possibly use,” he said. “And the CC&R committee approved their project. The role of CC&Rs is to protect the topography, plan and look of the neighborhood, but because these neighbors are taking away the characteristic of their homes it’s destroyed the property value of my home too.
“It’s like trying to rewrite the Constitution,” Bartol continued. “It’s a direct violation of changing the look of the neighborhood. When I lived in Cameron Park, those solar panels weren’t allowed to be seen from the street.”
Priest said the CC&R committee’s hands are tied because The California Solar Rights Act, passed in 1978, created the basic legal affirmation that a homeowner may install solar panels without fear a homeowners association will restrict or block them.
“We can give advice about aesthetics, but we cannot tell people they can’t have solar panels,” he said.
Priest has 36 panels on his El Dorado Hills home. In four years, his energy bill went from $5,000 annually to a surplus of $78 last year.
This is called net metering— when panels produce excess electricity it’s sent back to the electricity grid and the owner is credited.
Other residents may like the idea of solar, but they still don’t want it to be an eyesore. Sue Parker spearheaded the effort to get Windsor Point Park built and, with its visible 16-foot solar tree, it was dedicated as El Dorado Hills’ “first green park” Nov 1.
“I love the solar at our park, but not the enormous tower looming over the entrance,” Parker said. “The solar tower wasn’t included on park plans and we didn’t know about it until it went up. A structure of this magnitude should have been openly discussed with the public who now has to look at each day. But thank you EDHCSD Board of Directors for correcting the mistake and voting to move the solar panel away from the park entrance and onto a shade cover (by February 2014). Now, the solar panel will complement our new beautiful park instead of being an eyesore.”
At the park grand opening CSD Board President Billy Vandegrift said they decided to go solar to power the park’s irrigation system once they found it much more cost effective. Installing the tower where it currently is was a simple miscommunication, he said.
For information about the pros and cons of solar power for your home visit gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov.