Climate Bill May Override Association Regulations on Solar Energy Systems

17 Aug


The United States House of Representatives passed a bill, a section of which permits the federal government to issue regulations prohibiting any covenant, rule or bylaw of an association that delays or prevents installation, maintenance, or use of a solar energy system.  The bill goes on to provide that in the event an association has an approval process for the installation of a solar energy system, it shall follow the same process as an architectural modification request and shall be neither avoided or delayed. 


The United States House of Representatives passed—HR2454, also known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act (for a version of the full bill, click here) on June 26, 2009, in a narrow vote (219-212).  On July 7, 2009, it was placed on the Senate calendar.  The association-related provision is Section 209 of that bill.


It is not clear from the current wording of the statute how many different types of units governed by homeowners associations would be restricted.  The wording of the bill restricts it to “any residential structure designed for occupancy by 1 family…”  However, whether that limits the bill’s application to single-family homes or whether it could include townhomes, row homes, etc…, each of which is intended for single family occupancy, is unclear. 


This is not the first time that the federal government, for purposes of seeking to effectuate broader goals, has stepped into the forum of homeowners associations.  In 1996, the FCC adopted regulations preventing restriction on impairing the use of devices used to receive video programming (in short, cable dishes) (for more information on that law, click here).  Associations have seen the FCC restriction come into play through members demands and threatened or real litigation by attorneys.  Should the prohibition on solar restrictions become law, it is expected to also have the necessary teeth, though the use of solar energy systems, compared with the rampant use of cable dishes, is unclear.


Whether the bill contemplating prohibition of restrictions on solar energy systems becomes law, considering its narrow Senate passage, and its effect once passed are not entirely clear.  However, associations should keep their eyes on the bill to be prepared to properly handle members seeking to install solar energy systems on their units.


This blog entry is written by Chris Renz, a shareholder at Thomsen & Nybeck, P.A. Chris practices in the litigation area of the firm with primary focus on wind energy-related lease litigation, real estate litigation, employment litigation, townhome and condominium law, and criminal law, particularly as the prosecutor for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.


One Response to “Climate Bill May Override Association Regulations on Solar Energy Systems”

  1. Sarah September 29, 2009 at 6:55 pm #

    Good job!
    So does this mean that if the Restrictive Covenants for a certain community stating certain rules and regulations about solar energy systems do NOT apply? Or more to the point the homeowner cannot have fines or assessments placed on their property?

    I would like to hear more about clothes lines discretely placed on side of homeowner’s home – is this not also a solar energy system?

    If we in USA really care about our environment surely Restrictive Covenants should be “pushing” solar energy systems?

    I live in North Carolina on a golf course community and we have very, very strick R/Covenants.

    I look forward to your comments.

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