Georgia Homeowner Battles Neighborhood For Rights To Add Solar Panels On His Home

Americans understand that solar is a solution to many of the problems facing us today. Solar reduces pollution. It reduces our use of finite energy sources. And it reduces our dependence on foreign sources of oil. Surprisingly, convincing your neighbors to let you go solar may be the big challenge.

Bill Fogarty used the sun to heat his water when he lived in Denver and San Diego.

It cut his gas bill to almost zero in the summer and gave him water hot enough to scald him, if he forgot to turn the cold tap

"It almost worked too well," he said.

Now Fogarty and his family live in Alpharetta and they want to do it again.

They can't.

Their homeowner's association won't allow it, on the belief that visible solar panels hurt property values, Fogarty said.

"I don't think they're any more of an eyesore than utility boxes, telephone or light poles or some homeowners themselves," he said.

Fogarty's dilemma is not unusual. Neighborhood covenants and even zoning conspire to restrict if and where residents can install solar panels, not only here but nationally.

The Solar Energy Industry Association lists HOAs and other restrictions at the top of a list of impediments in what it calls a solar bill of rights.

"Americans have the right to put solar on their homes or businesses," the manifesto begins. "But many are prevented from doing so by local restrictions."

Some HOAs ban solar power outright. Others let neighbors nix proposed changes to the home's appearance, which can also block solar installations.

Still others, like Fogarty's in Alpharetta's Windward community, want panels hidden on the back of homes only, which means people whose homes face south -- the direction solar arrays need to point -- are out of luck.

Fogarty is one of those. He wanted to lay panels on the south-facing roof at the front of his house.

"We handle it on a case-by-case basis," said Maxine Plotkin of Community Management Associates, which manages Windward and its homeowner's covenants. "In general though, we would want solar panels only on the back of the house."

Visible solar panels would depress property values, Plotkin said. Solar "doesn't fit there," she said. "Windward is not a modern development. Solar panels would be really out of place."

Fogarty disagrees: "No one in their right mind would want to do something to reduce their property value anyway, if they thought that would be the result, especially in this market," he said.

Mark Chien is another solar energy fan who ran afoul of his neighbors. He sank more than $7,000 into a solar water heating system at his home in John's Creek, only to tear it down a few weeks later.

Chien's HOA was supportive. He built the system in his enclosed backyard, out of sight from the street.

But it was too close to his property line and somebody complained. The city cited Chien, who discovered that every sunny location in his yard was too close to one of his property lines. He gave the dismantled system to Lanier Technical College, where he hopes it will help educate people.

"In a way, it's better," he said. "It's much more visible than it would have been in my backyard."

Solar developer James Marlowe said hostility to solar next door stems from outdated ideas.

"It's similar to what people went through with satellite dishes, back when they were big and ugly," he said. "People don't realize that the technology has changed. They can be done very attractively. And they increase home values, because they save energy."

Some states, like California, have laws protecting solar from local restrictions, said Lee Peterson, a Reznick Group partner who works with solar issues.

He doesn't see that happening soon in Georgia, but said, "In an ideal world, that's something we should probably have."

This ridiculous news story was taken from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and illustrates the dire need for sustainable energy reform both locally, regionally, and nationally.

For more information on adding your name to the Solar Bill of Rights please check

A full list of state and federal tax incentives can be found at

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