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Solar panels causing some storms

Even as California and the federal government encourage solar power, homeowners often have to fight homeowners associations for their right to install the systems.

November 30, 2009|By Catherine Saillant

Weinberg, the Camarillo resident, said he no longer pays electric bills that rose as high as $500 a month for his 3,000-square-foot home during hot summer months. He's already earned a $60 credit for sending excess energy to the state's grid, he said.

"There is now a greater financial incentive for people to adopt this stuff," Weinberg said. "So I've got to think there's more incentive to fight."

The heightened activity has produced more battles, not just in California but across the nation. A Woodbury, Minn., man was reportedly denied permission to install solar panels on his roof because his homeowners association found them too obtrusive.

In Somerset County, N.J., a homeowner was reportedly ordered to remove 28 installed panels. In Avondale, Ariz., retiree Hank Speak has been fighting for more than six years to keep his solar equipment. Arguing that the panels were ugly, his homeowners group imposed huge fines.

But last year, an Arizona judge ruled that the association's restrictions were contrary to the state's support of solar power.

Walker, the Houston solar installer spokesman, estimates that his firm has lost $2 million in jobs this year because homeowners groups have blocked installations in several of the states where the company operates.

Several states, including California, Arizona, Colorado and Florida, have laws that prevent homeowner groups from imposing too many restrictions. But as the California cases demonstrate, homeowners sometimes have to fight for their rights.

Weinberg took on his homeowners group, he said, because the law appeared to be clearly on his side, he said. The Spanish Hills Homeowners Assn. wanted him to move the panels from the front of his house to the back. But that orientation would have caused him to lose about 40% efficiency, a violation of the act, he said.

Griffin, the Santa Clarita homeowner, said he installed his panels without his homeowners group's permission because it was taking too long to respond. His attorney, Michael Ribons, said delay is often a tactic.

"Homeowners associations stall, they say they want more information," Ribons said. "But everyone knows it's all about looks."

The jury's finding that Griffin should relocate some of the panels to a newly built platform would cost him about $8,000, Ribons said.

Bartz, who's run ABC Solar in Rancho Palos Verdes since 2000, said he regularly runs up against homeowner association boards -- and even city planning departments -- that throw up roadblocks. They usually back down once they learn about the Solar Rights Act, Bartz said.

"Some homeowners groups are just unaware," he said. "But they also like their control."

The community board for the Palos Verdes homes rejected the permits because the proposed solar panels were blue, Bartz said.

"They wanted it black. It just was arbitrary," he said. "I don't care how they feel. I know every time the meter spins backwards, I feel good."

catherine.saillant

@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ann Simmons contributed to this report.

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