We finally got our solar panels installed last week. They aren’t operational yet…more steps in the process I will write about later.
But first I need to catch up on the process so far.
Next in the series is step four – submitting rebate applications and applying for approval through the homeowners association.
Government rebates (local, state, and federal) are still available. They can save you up to 50% off your system – but you’ve got to file the paperwork correctly and in a timely manner. Luckily, Solar City prepared everything for us. All we had to do was sign and send back the papers. They even factored the rebates into our final cost so we don’t have to wait for reimbursement. It was a piece of cake.
The homeowners’ association approval, on the other hand, was not so easy. Through a combination of issues, the process took way too long.
Here’s the thing about the association approval, it’s simple a go-through-the-motions approval. In California, an association’s power to deny or alter solar applications is limited.
The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 protects a homeowner’s right to install a solar energy system by limiting an HOA’s ability to object to such installations through its CC&Rs. The Act does permit CC&Rs to include provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on installations. “Reasonable” restrictions included those that: 1) do not significantly increase the cost of the solar system, 2) do not significantly decrease the system’s efficiency or specified performance, or 3) allow for an alternative system of comparable cost, efficiency and benefits. “Significant” is further defined as those restrictions that increase the system’s cost by over 20 percent or decrease the system’s efficiency by over 20 percent.
Basically, the HOA can not deny your application. They can require you to make changes, provided that those changes do not increase your cost by more than 20% or decrease the power of your system by over 20%. But while the HOA can not deny your application, you still do need to go through the formal approval process. A California couple learned that lesson the hard way, when they had to remove panels not approved by their association in advance of installation.
For us, HOA approval meant filling out the application, submitting our plans, and getting the signatures of our neighbors on all sides of our house (front, back, left and right side).
Two of our neighbors are the easy “where do I sign?” and “thumbs up for solar” type. They signed right away. One neighbor I’m a little afraid of so I put it off, and put it off, and then finally made my husband go knock on their door. Luckily, he caught the husband in the garage and he signed right away. No questions asked – phew! Just one more to go.
The last set of neighbors was a little more challenging. They needed “time to think about it” and were concerned the panels would be “unsightly”. They wanted to take a picture of our house, print it out, compare that to our plans, and draw the panels from the plans onto the photo (no, I’m not kidding). After that, they could assess just how “unsightly” the panels would be and decide if they would sign off or not.
We said okay and gave them time and our phone number. We delicately explained that their approval was a courtesy more than anything and that we wouldn’t be offended if they checked “do not approve” on the project.
About a week later, the last set of neighbors called and said they were ready to sign. They are and older couple, actually quite sweet. I feel a little bad because I think we caused an argument between the two of them – when the husband signed off on our plans, the wife was grumbling in the background about the “unsightly” solar panels that would soon be on our roof.
We got out of there quickly, and with a last thank you, we had the signatures we needed and were able to submit everything to the association.
Unfortunately, we submitted our application at the end of November, just before the holidays put a delay on everything, including HOA meetings. Our application was not presented to the board until January. After that, it took weeks of calling for me to finally get an answer.
In the end, we were approved with no modifications or adjustments and were able to proceed with installation. While we were hoping to have the panels installed before the end of the year, we are only about a month off and happy that this step of the process is behind us.
Installation was a breeze – I’ll cover that in part five. Then, inspection, approval, and the last step, turning the switch from fossil fuel to solar energy. Can’t wait!