Mission statement

Who we are: A grass roots volunteer group of Plano citizens
Our Mission: To increase awareness and use of Solar Energy for electricity generation in Plano
This Blog: PlanoSolar.org - for articles, useful links, resources, surveys, how-tos
**** Check out our 1 minute video **** Solar Energy in Texas - Don't you wonder?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Overcoming Potential Regulatory (local) Barriers for Residential Solar Installations

So, YOU want to put Solar PV on YOUR property?  There may be some potential barriers related to local regulations of which you should be aware. And hopefully with this blog posting, we can provide some ways to help you overcome them if they get in your way.

Deployment of residential solar panels is still a relatively new phenomenon.  Therefore it is normal for a few people to question their aesthetics. (As solar advocates, this may seem hard to believe... but does sometimes happen...) However, aesthetics is a very subjective topic and as solar panels become a more normal occurrence, the aesthetic “concerns” will fade.  Remember when many neighborhoods required wood shingle roofs because it was thought that composition shingles were not aesthetically pleasing?  That didn’t last very long.

By the end of 2013, there were 470,000 total solar PV installations across the US. 155,000 of those installations were completed in 2013. Thus, the GROWTH has been recent and LARGE! The numbers in Texas are still relatively small, but the numbers are not insignificant. By the end of 2014, Texas will be nearing 10,000 total installations.

So let's identify and discuss four potential barriers and how to overcome them.  They include: 
  1. HOA requirements and Texas HOA legislation (important to know and understand even if you don't live in a neighborhood with an HOA)
  2. The HOA "street facing" restriction and how to overcome it
  3. Recent city ordinance activity across North Texas and how to make sure it doesn't become a barrier
  4. The one big HOA legislation loophole and how it may effect homeowners - in the short term and longer term
1. HOA requirements and Texas HOA legislation

  • Texas HB-362, passed in the 82nd Legislative session (2011), limits HOAs and POAs from restricting solar devices outright. To comply with this law, homeowners that live in neighborhoods with HOAs must still follow the normal procedures for seeking improvements, including a written request or application to an appointed Architecture Review Committee or similar council.
  • For additional information, please see our "Useful Links" page and scroll down to section titled "Policy & References related to HOAs (Home Owners Associations)".
  • Even if you don't live in a neighborhood with an HOA, it is important to understand the basics of the legislation because similar restrictions might appear in local city/county ordinances.  (Learn more in item 3 below.)
  • Also, there is still one particularly problematic loophole in the existing Texas HOA legislation that is a BIG problem in new, and not so new, neighborhood developments.  See item 4 to learn more!

2. Texas HOA legislation "street facing" clause and how to overcome it

  • Some people might not install solar panels because their HOA does not "seem to" allow street facing panels. Since south facing panels provide the maximum annual production, it is important to install panels on the south facing roof even if it is street facing.  To learn how to overcome this "apparent" but "not a show stopper" restriction, see our blog posting - "Texas HOAs generally CANNOT block south street facing solar installations"

3. Recent city ordinance activity across North Texas and how to make sure it doesn't become a barrier

  • Recently, the North Texas Renewable Energy Group has found that some city jurisdictions across North Texas have been researching and drafting solar ordinances for their communities. While this can be an opportunity to increase awareness and promote the use of solar energy, it can also sometimes be misapplied to create overly restrictive ordinances that actually derail the growth of solar. In these overly restrictive examples, it is usually the result of a misguided attempt to protect community "aesthetics" as was previously mentioned.
  • You are encouraged to get involved with your local city or community and make sure that they have solar-friendly ordinances and processes. Below is a suggested simplified list of uniformly enforceable solar energy device related ordinances with a strong emphasis on safety.
    • Solar energy devices are allowed. Along with energy efficiency investments, residents are encouraged to use available renewable clean energy technology to reduce their electric load on the electric utility grid. 
    • Installed solar energy devices must meet all applicable safety requirements including electrical, fire, and building codes.  Simplified city permits are required, and the permitting process is in place to insure that applicable safety codes are met. 
    • Solar energy devices that are to be interconnected to the electric grid must meet applicable interconnection requirements and approvals of the local electric utility.
  • Ordinance restrictions for solar energy devices beyond those related to safety will be difficult to uniformly apply and enforce.  For example, most jurisdictions have found that trying to enforce “no street visibility” for solar panels for aesthetic reasons can be easily challenged.  For example, how can a jurisdiction allow some homeowners the consumer choice to install solar panels because their ideal roof surface for solar panels is not visible from the street, while prohibiting another homeowner from the consumer choice of installing solar panels because their idea roof surface is “visible from the street”.  Similarly, if aesthetics is such a significant factor, then why would it be acceptable for someone to have to tolerate solar panels if they lived behind someone with solar panels on the rear of their house, but not be acceptable if they lived across the street from someone that had solar panels installed on the front of their house.
  • If your city or jurisdiction does have some type of "street facing" restrictions, you can submit a request to your city's Board of Adjustment or Variance.  Using the same information that you would use to show adverse solar production for an HOA, in most cases the board will grant you a waiver to install.  (If they don't, Plano Solar Advocates would be interested to help.)  It would also be a good idea to request the city revise their ordinance to remove street facing restrictions so that citizens and the city or not required to go through the extra time and expense of going through a variance process.

4. The one big HOA legislation loophole and how it may effect homeowners - in the short term and longer term

  • As was mentioned in item 1 above, there is one particularly problematic loophole in the existing Texas HOA legislation that is a BIG problem in new neighborhood developments. The loophole indicates that during the development period, the developer may prohibit or restrict a property owner from installing a solar energy device.
  • The good news is that some residential developers allow solar installations during the "development period". The BAD news is that many DO NOT.  And since this "development period" can last a few years, and even extend for decades if the developer is adding new additions, this can be a very big barrier to the expansion of residential solar and to net zero energy homes.
  • We need everyone's help to get involved and help change/eliminate this loophole. To learn more see "Energy Star Homebuilders Block Installation of Solar PV in Plano Neighborhood".
  • To learn about a way to spread the word on this barrier, see "Neighborhood Opportunities"

If you know of any other local regulatory barriers, please let us know and provide comments and feedback to this posting.

Thanks and Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocate (LH)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Energy Literacy - in Plano and North Texas

As students in Plano and many districts across North Texas head back to school today, let's take some time for all of us to increase our literacy about our energy consumption and its impacts.

When first learning about rooftop solar, it is important to do some homework to understand how much electricity your home or business uses on an annual basis in total kilowatt-hours (kWh).  While most of us know about how much we spend in dollars on our monthly electric bill, we need to better understand our total average annual kWh usage before taking the next steps for investing in rooftop solar (or similar energy efficiency investment).  Improving our understanding of how much electricity energy we consume is an important first step to improving our overall "energy literacy".  

And improving our "energy literacy" is significant for two broad reasons.  First - it appears that the North Texas area annually uses more electricity than any other region of the state. (More about this in the next paragraph.) And second, most of the electricity we consume in North Central Texas is generated by central power plants outside the area we live.  Therefore, the impacts of this electricity generation delivered to our region - good or bad - we don't seem to know, or care about. Over time, we can dramatically shift this second point, by taking advantage of clean local energy available to us almost every day - from the sun! With technology available today, we can grow and enrich our community by combining the use of this local solar resource with expanding our energy literacy and energy efficiency.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to 24 million Texas customers - representing 85 percent of the state's electric load.  Their website (www.ercot.com) provides a wealth of information about electricity use across Texas.  Much of this data is grouped in eight zones across the state. Plano and the DFW area are in the North Central Texas zone. Annually this zone is the highest consumer of electricity of all the eight ERCOT zones, consuming one-third of all the electricity of Texas. By doing a bit more math on some additional data from ERCOT, it can be calculated that the average residential customer in the North Central zone used 16,220 kWh in 2013.  This is about 10% higher than the average across all the zones and almost 20% higher than the zone with the least annual usage. 

Plano consumes over 4 Billion (with a capital B) kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. With today’s available solar photovoltaic technology, about 40% of this demand could be met with about three percent of the city’s 72 square miles of surface area.  Think residential and business rooftops!  Local CLEAN energy, that uses no water for generation, and is generated where it is consumed so no energy waste in transmission. 

As Texas, and especially the North Texas area continues to grow, it seems that improving our "energy literacy" and taking advantage of clean local solar energy might help us in the long term save money, reduce our water consumption, improve our air quality, and improve our overall quality of life.  

To help us in the journey of improving our "energy literacy", we wanted to let our blog readers know about a very informative webinar held by the US Department of Energy on August 5 titled "National Energy Literacy Virtual Town Hall".  Links to the webcast information, presentation, and additional information are available at this link - www.energy.gov/eere/education/downloads/webcast-national-energy-literacy-virtual-town-hall

Points of interest from the webinar:
Please take a look at some of this information and let us know what we can do to help improve Energy Literacy in Plano!

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates (LH)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Texas HOAs generally CANNOT block south street facing solar installations

BRIEF UPDATE:
Texas HB-362 passed in the 82nd Legislative session (2011), limits HOAs and POAs from restricting solar devices outright.  While working with a few Solarize Plano participants and other residents in Plano, we have encounter a few instances were HOAs have initially denied placement of street facing southern exposure solar panels. 

Under the Texas solar legislation, an HOA cannot prevent you from installing solar panels on your south facing roof if it faces the street.  You just have to work with the solar installation company to show that any alternate location proposed by the HOA that doesn't use the south facing roof will decrease efficiency (annual production) by 10% or more. This is generally not a problem when comparing south facing roof placed solar panels vs solar panels facing east or west. 

It is recommended that persons installing solar PV and that live in an HOA governed area, and that need to install panels on their south facing street facing roof, to have their solar company include upfront in their submission to the HOA review committee the necessary calculations for their planned solar PV system that show that not using the south facing roof will decrease annual production by 10% or greater.  Including this in the initial submission should help reduce the overall HOA review cycle time.

If you, or anyone you know, has been holding off installing solar PV because of this, we can help them through the process.  To reach us for assistance, please use our "Contact Us" form.

For additional information, please see our "Useful Links" page and scroll down to the section titled "Policy & References related to HOAs (Home Owners Associations)"

Thoughts and feedback on this topic would be appreciated!

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates (LH)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Energy Star Homebuilders Block Installation of Solar PV in Plano Neighborhood

Homebuilders Elect to Limit Consumer Choice

This blog posting is intended for homeowners of the Trails of Glenwood neighborhood in Plano and similar homeowners elsewhere who might be in similar situations.  Readers of this blog posting are encouraged to forward it to others, especially if you know someone living in, or associated with this neighborhood.

More and more homeowners all across Plano are exercising consumer choice by choosing to make investments in their homes to add solar electric PV systems. These systems generate local electricity to meet at least some or most of their electricity needs.  But in a beautiful area of northeast Plano, homeowners are being told they don’t have the choice.

Legislation was passed in 2011 that prevents HOAs in Texas from blocking homeowners from installing solar panels on their homes.  However, there is one “loophole” in the legislation that was reportedly added at the last minute by the Texas Homebuilders Association. This loophole allows developers (builders) to withhold permission to install solar panels if the neighborhood is still in “development”.  Unfortunately for homeowners and prospective homeowners in the Trails of Glenwood neighborhood in Plano, their HOA (currently represented by only the homebuilders) is using this clause to prevent homeowners the choice of generating some of their electricity with solar panels.

It seems a bit ironic that as the Trails of Glenwood neighborhood is adding additional loads to the electric grid and increasing water requirements on a very strained and fragile water system, that these “Energy Star” homebuilders are blocking new homeowners from making their own investments to install solar electric systems. Systems that take advantage of local clean energy and that require no water for electricity generation.

Plano Solar Advocates has written letters to the homebuilders and HOA management company requesting that they change their policy and to allow homeowners this electricity consumer choice option.  To date, only one response has been received.   See the following excerpt:

… the concern is, by allowing the installation of unsightly solar panels and equipment there would be a negative impact on the aesthetic quality of the entire community.  So while solar panels would be a positive with regard to energy savings of the individual homeowner, it could negatively impact the rest of the property owners in Trails of Glenwood via diminished property values….

Now a few points here from the perspective of Plano Solar Advocates:
1.      The term “unsightly” for solar panels seems quite subjective.  We agree that solar panels are still relatively new, and it may take time for “some” people to get used to seeing them.  But by driving through the Trails of Glenwood neighborhood, you can see some things that others might think or more “unsightly” than solar panels - like high voltage transmission lines visible from every home in the neighborhood and satellite dishes installed on many roofs that are visible from the street.
2.      Trails of Glenwood residents should be becoming more familiar with solar panels because the Plano Fire Station that protects them just outside their neighborhood has solar panels on its roof.  
3.      Regarding “diminished property values” - all of the studies and articles that we have found indicate that adding local generation to homes only increases property values, not decrease.  Even a recent article in the online Builder magazine titled “Eight Reasons Your Buyers Should Opt for Solar Power" is highlighting why solar is becoming more mainstream and definitely not decreasing property values.
o    Also, according to a recent article by the American Solar Energy Society, there are now more than 470,000 solar PV installations across the US, with 155,000 of those being installed in 2013.  So PV intallations may still be new to some people, but acceptance is growing rapidly!
4.      Toyota, a company very focused on sustainability, recently announced that it is moving its North American headquarters to Plano (relocating from California).  To attract relocated employees, it seems that area homebuilders would be embracing rooftop solar technology which is widespread in California, rather than blocking it.

So in closing, we propose the following steps & recommendations for homeowners and potential homeowners of the Trails of Glenwood. Contact the HOA and homebuilders and let your voice be heard.
1.      Tell the HOA that it should be your choice not their choice whether you choose to install solar panels. Tell them to change their “development period” policy and to allow installations of solar panels.
2.      Ask the HOA and builder for clarification as to where and how it was disclosed to you before you purchased the property that you would not be allowed to install solar panels during the “development” period.
3.      If they do not agree to change their policy regarding installation of solar panels, here are some additional ideas:
o    Ask them for a specific date for when the “development” period will end and to publish this date to existing homeowners and to all new prospective homeowners.
o    For homeowners who are interested in investing and installing solar PV systems and are denied by the HOA, require the HOA to waive the $600 annual dues until the “development” period is over.  This would at least partially offset the lost electricity and potential equipment savings denied the homeowner.

If you have any additional ideas, questions or comments, we would like to hear from you.  Please use our “contact us” form on our webpage to let us know.

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates (LH)

UPDATE5 August 31, 2014 - Dallas Morning News “Sounding Off” posed question - Should developers be able to restrict solar-energy devices while housing developments are still under construction? Results as of 9/2/14 - Change the law!
Out of 118 total responses: 106 Against developer restriction, 12 either For, For it with Conditions, or Neutral.
See embedded links to Dallas Morning News “Sounding Off” area responses with response totals for each area in parentheses - Plano (17/4), Allen (2/0), Best Southwest area (14/0), Frisco (3/0), Lewisville-Flower Mound (6/0), McKinney (13/0), Northwest Dallas County (16/2), Richardson-Lake Highlands (17/1), Rockwall-Rowlett (8/1), East Dallas (10/2)

UPDATE4 August 20, 2014 - See CBS Channel 11 video and article - Homeowners Stalled From Installing Solar Power
UPDATE3 August 20, 2014 - See Dallas Observer article - Plano Developers Won't Let Homeowners Install Solar Panels Because They're Just So Ugly
UPDATE2 August 19, 2014 - See Dallas Morning News Editorial - The stupidity of stopping solar power in Plano
UPDATE August 17, 2014 - See Dallas Morning News article - Texas law lets developers ban solar panelswhile subdivisions are growing

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Build Solar Ready Homes in Solar Rich Texas

Pursuant to 34 TAC §19.52, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) is accepting written comments through August 4, 2014 on the energy efficiency provisions of the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) for single-family residential construction and the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for all commercial, multi-family and industrial construction. These written comments can be provided by email.

(See - http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/TXCOMPT/bulletins/c29371?reqfrom=share)

Included in the 2015 IRC is "Appendix U-Solar-Ready Provisions", an appendix describing provisions for building new homes solar ready.

Readers are requested to email SECO (at 2015CodeComments@cpa.texas.gov) no later than August 4, 2014 to encourage the state and local jurisdictions to adopt Appendix U as a requirement for new homes built across Texas.

Some background: 50-60 years ago, new homes being built began to widely adopt the new technology of residential central air conditioning.  The designs and building codes for homes were adapted to accommodate the changes necessary to add this new major home appliance technology. It was a wonderful technology greatly increasing the comfort and livability for Texas citizens.  So much so, the population of Texas began to grow dramatically.  Also at the same time, undoubtedly the electricity demand began to grow across the state, and in particular the peak demand began to grow with heavy air conditioning use during our long sunny summer afternoons. Not only because more people came to live in Texas, but because each home was using more electricity to power the air conditioning systems that were keeping us cool.

Fast forward to today. Peak demand electricity usage is becoming more and more of a challenge for the Texas electricity grid.  More people or continuing to move to Texas.  More new homes are being built.

Today, 50+ years after the wide spread adoption of residential central air conditioning, there is a new technology beginning to be widely deployed called rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV). Finally, each home can include technology that can generate local electricity to help power central air conditioning and other home comforts. Electricity that is generated where it is consumed, reducing the strain on the statewide electric grid. Electricity that is generated from local clean sunshine, not requiring our precious water resources like traditional centrally generated power plants. Electricity that is produced without air, water, or noise pollution.

Solar-ready provisions include relatively simple items such as including a chase that goes to the roof for solar service lines, and a roof design that provides an area of unobstructed south facing roof surface where solar panels could be installed. When included in the original design requirements and done when the home is constructed, these solar-ready provisions should add little or no cost to the overall price of new homes. See ICC Approves Changes to Energy Code for additional information.

So please take the time to generate a brief email to SECO at 2015CodeComments@cpa.texas.gov and ask them to adopt "Appendix U - Solar-Ready Provisions" of the 2015 IRC as a requirement for new homes built in Texas. And ask others you know to do the same!

Shine On!
Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH)

Additional thought - If you hear from a homebuilder that building a home solar-ready costs too much, ask them how much cost is added to homes to include fireplaces? How much time per year do you spend in front of the fireplace vs hours of sunshine?



Friday, May 16, 2014

Solarbration!

2013 Solarize Plano Project Sun-Blazers! 
Adding 100kW+ of CLEAN LOCAL electricity to Plano Neighborhoods!

Well the time has really flown by! We finally had a chance to have a "Solarbration" gathering on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at the Plano Environmental Education Center.  While not all the participants were able to attend, we did have a great turnout, with great discussion and feedback. 

Attending participants were greeted and congratulated by Autumn Dillon from the City of Plano and Texas State House Member Representative Van Taylor. Representative Taylor also fielded numerous questions from the group, and it was great to hear his perspective on important topics related to promoting clean local energy sources in our community.  And special thanks to Axium Solar. They provided some great looking t-shirts for the "Sun-Blazer" participants.

Please visit the Plano Solar Advocates Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pvplano) or select this link for photos of the “Solarbration

To see all the wonderful home installations, photos are available at this link - “2013 Solarize Plano Installation Photos”

The 2013 Solarize Plano Project system installations were completed in the first quarter of this year (2014).  Twenty (20) Plano homeowners elected to install solar PV electric systems as part of the group purchase project. The combined total electrical capacity of the installations is 102.6 kW.  Overall, this brings the total number of residential installations in Plano to about 100.

What are the impacts of these most recent installations?
  1. These residents have made long term investments in their homes to create LOCAL CLEAN energy which will help them hedge and stabilize a portion of their long term electricity costs.
  2. They have helped reduce the peak electricity demand on the state’s electric grid by locally producing 140,000 kWh annually, and with no air, water, or noise pollution!
  3. They have helped reduce water consumption in North Texas, because unlike traditional electricity generation, creating electricity from solar PV panels requires no water.
  4. They have helped the local economy through increased business sales revenue and the associated local jobs.
The presentation from the Solarbration on May 10, 2014 is also available at this link - Solarbration Presentation.

Congratulations to all the 2013 Solarize Plano Project participants!

If you know anyone interested in participating in the 2014 Solarize Plano Project, we have just announced a "Phase 2". To learn more, go to www.solarizeplano.org

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Learn about Solar in Texas, North Texas, and Plano (in 5 minutes)

Watch these three short informational videos. Spread the word and help them go internet viral in Texas, North Texas, and Plano!
  1. Solar Energy in Texas - Don't You Wonder? (Plano Solar Advocates)
  2. Solar Ready II Initiative (North Central Texas Council of Governments)
  3. Solarize Plano 2014 (Plano Television Network)

Video 1 - Let's set the stage. Imagine you are watching commercials during the Superbowl. :-). Maybe you have just watched a neat multi-million dollar commercial from an energy company (oil, natural gas, etc.), and then this short (1 minute), zero dollar commercial plays...... anyway, just imagine..... Don't you wonder?

Video 2 - The North Central Texas Council of Governments currently has an initiative underway called Solar Ready II. Check out this 2 minute video to learn about it.  It features one of our 2013 Solarize Plano participants. Also see www.nctcog.org/solar

Video 3 - The Plano Television Network prepared this 2 minute video about the 2014 Solarize Plano Project.  Watch it to learn more.  If you don't live in Plano, we encourage you to start a "solarize" group purchase in your neighborhood.  See DFW Solarize Projects. Don't live in the North Texas area, check out www.SolarizeTexas.org to learn about other solarize projects starting to shine all across Texas

Shine On!
Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH)