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 and residential 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 are 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?