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Solar Fight Hits Home

Solar panels convert sunlight to electricity through crystal silicone 'solar' cells connected to a module that generates and distributes an electrical current throughout the system. Joel Davidson, a member of the California Solar Energy Industry Association, said that there is no legal basis for blocking certain colored solar panels from being installed. Credit: Tom UnderhillPV News
By Douglas Morino
Peninsula News
Palos Verde CA (PV News) Mar 20, 2009
The sun is shining on Bradley Bartz. After having three solar panel permits denied by the Palos Verdes Homes Association Art Jury, Bartz - who owns a solar system installation company in Rancho Palos Verdes - threatened the association with legal action.

On Tuesday, the city of Palos Verdes Estates approved the projects, bypassing the association's recommendation.

"There are rules that need to be adhered to," Bartz said. "It proves that the Art Jury is not above any law."

The Solar Rights Act, or California Civil Code 714, was adopted in 1978 and was created to promote alternative energy use. It prohibits cities and homes associations from restricting solar panel installations, unless they pose a risk to the health or safety of nearby residents.

Bartz' solar fight with the association stems from blue panels picked by three of his clients for energy-saving solar systems on their homes, which lay under the jurisdiction of the association.

The association denied Bartz' permit requests to install the systems, explaining that panels should be a more eye-pleasing shade of black.

"The Art Jury can't stand in the way of the city approving them," said Sue Van Every, Palos Verdes Homes Association Manager, of the solar panel proposals. "But we are really concerned about the aesthetics and the impact it will have on the surrounding homes."

She called the city's approval "uncommon."

First established in 1923, the Palos Verdes Art Jury is a subsidiary of the Homes Association and reviews building plans within the city, which was one of the first planned communities in the United States.

Van Every estimated that the association gets about 150 to 200 submissions every month for review - everything from designs for new homes to re-painted front doors.

"We cannot require Art Jury approval for projects," said Director of Planning and Public Works Allan Rigg. "But it is strongly recommended."

Under Bartz' proposals, the panels would be installed on the rear roofs of the homes, away from the street.

"The price for black panels is 30 percent higher," said Siobhan Van Gieson, one of Bartz' clients who had a permit denied by the association.

"Nobody will be able to see the panels except one of our neighbors. And they certainly don't have a problem with it."

The association asked Bartz to submit price differences for blue and black solar panels so they could be reviewed before a final decision was made. Bartz never submitted the price differences, said Van Every.

The blue solar designs were picked by the homeowners because they are made in the United States and meet eco-friendly manufacturing standards, Bartz explained.

"It's a natural process," he said. "The color is not by choice, it's just the way the crystals grow."

Solar panels convert sunlight to electricity through crystal silicone 'solar' cells connected to a module that generates and distributes an electrical current throughout the system.

Joel Davidson, a member of the California Solar Energy Industry Association, said that there is no legal basis for blocking certain colored solar panels from being installed.

"I am surprised that anyone would restrict solar use," said Davidson, who helped contribute to the rise of solar energy use when he put panels on the roof of his Ozark Mountain home in 1978.

"The days of telling people what they can do and how they can have their homes are gone," he said, adding that in many cases, solar panels can increase property values.

Officials from the association contend that they are not opposed to solar panels, rather their interest lies in upholding the protective restrictions on homes that were laid out by the city's founder's 80 years ago.

"In this case, (the decision) is based solely on aesthetics," said Art Jury President Don Hendrickson.

He pointed to provisions in the Solar Rights Act that would allow the city to "impose reasonable restrictions" on solar panels.

"This is new territory," Hendrickson said. "Nobody is trying to prevent anyone from using solar technology."

As alternative energy sources become increasingly popular - and more affordable - environmentally conscious home owners and neighborhood associations have clashed over the use of solar panels.

On the Hill, alternative energy sources have been embraced.

Both Rolling Hills Estates and RPV do not have restrictions on solar panels. RHE officials have advocated for the use of more solar energy by waiving city fees residents pay to have panels installed on their homes.

Van Every estimated that the first solar heating systems appeared in PVE in the 1960s, and that there are about 10 homes with black solar panels.

"They look good, and nobody complains," she said.

Future solar panel requests will continue to be processed on a "case-by-case" basis, Van Every said. The association remains opposed to blue solar panels.

"We don't want to discourage solar panels," she said. "And we certainly don't want to keep any residents from 'going green.'"

That's not how Bartz sees it. Bartz, who plans on applying for another solar panel permit with PVE next week, is telling his clients to ignore the association. Bartz added that he will continue with legal action should they "stand in the way" of any future solar projects.

"I'm trying to protect the technology I believe in," he said. "We want to set a precedent to make it easier for the next guy."

Related Links
California Solar Energy Industry Association
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