Rules, Regulations and Policies


SOLAR ACCESS LAWS

Solar access is the availability of (or access to) unobstructed, direct sunlight. Solar access to sunlight is very important to advance solar energy generation and use.States can assure that renewable energy resources such as solar are available to their citizens, chiefly through solar access laws. Solar access rights provide for the right to continued access to the solar electric resource.

At the local level, communities use many different mechanisms to protect solar access, including solar access ordinances, development guidelines requiring proper street orientation, zoning ordinances that contain building height restrictions, and solar permits.

California provides perhaps the most comprehensive set of state laws designed to encourage solar access and prevent restrictions on solar energy systems. These laws address municipal restrictions, residential landscaping, and homeowner association restrictions. California’s solar access laws appear in the state’s Civil, Government, Health and Safety, and Public Resources Codes. California’s Civil Code (714) ensures that solar easements may be created to ensure that proper sunlight is available to those who operate solar energy systems, including passive solar design. The Civil Code also states that no covenant or restriction contained in any document pertaining to the sale of property can contain language that explicitly prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system.  

The major solar access laws in California include:

  • California’s Government Code (65850.5) provides that subdivisions may include in their plans solar easements applicable to all plots within the subdivision.
     
  • The Solar Shade Control Act encourages the use of trees and other natural shading except in cases where the shading may interfere with the use of active and passive solar systems. This act prohibits shading of solar collectors that result from tree growth occurring after a solar collector is installed.  It states that no plant may be placed or allowed to grown such that it shades a collector more than 10% from 10 am to 2 pm. It does not apply to plants already in place or replacement of plants that die after the installation of the solar collectors. It does require trees already in place, but not yet shading the system, to be trimmed and maintained so that they do not impact the system. A city or county may adopt an ordinance exempting its jurisdiction from the provisions of the act. Alternatively, some cities have passed ordinances that are more favorable to solar. In some cases, they require existing vegetation to be cleared to allow good solar access in at least some suitable place on a property.
     
  • The Solar Rights Act (civil code section 714) prohibits local governments from restricting the installation of a solar energy systems based on aesthetics. It is the intent of this law that “local agencies not adopt ordinances that create unreasonable barriers to the installation of solar energy systems, including, but not limited to, design review for aesthetic purposes.” Local authorities shall approve applications through permit issuance and can only restrict solar installations based on health and safety reasons. The Act is intended to encourage installations by removing obstacles and minimizing permitting costs. Additional key provisions limit aesthetic solar restrictions to those that cost less than $2,000 and limit a building official’s review of solar installations to only those items that relate to specific health and safety requirements or local, state and federal law.
     
  • The Solar Rights Act of 1978 (civil code section 714) provides that homeowner associations must not place unreasonable restrictions on homeowners wishing to install solar energy systems.
     
  • The Solar Easement Law (civil code sections 801 & 801.5) provides the opportunity to protect future solar access via a negotiated easement with neighboring property owners.

As illustrated in blue on the map below, the majority of states have in place some form of solar easement or access law at either the state and/or local levels.