Solar Energy for Community Associations – An Introduction

solar panels

I have been representing California community associations (homeowners associations for folks in other states) for almost twenty years now.  During most of that time, if I was contacted by an association’s board of directors about solar panels, it was generally to answer one question first and foremost:  “Can we stop them?”  Historically, community association architectural review committees and boards of directors erected roadblocks to the installation of what they considered to be unattractive solar panel arrays on homeowners’ rooftops, the solar energy industry pushed back, California passed successive legislation which over the years made it more and more difficult for community associations to prevent, or even control, solar power installations, and so on, back and forth, over the years. 

Until recently, that is. 

A year and half or so ago, I started to notice that the tide was changing, with a few board members expressing interest in whether the association itself could perhaps reap the benefits of solar power.  That interest has grown from a snowball to an avalanche.  As of today, among the pending inquiries I have received from board members anxious to learn how to obtain solar energy for their community associations, there is not a single alternative energy naysayer.  

Why the about face?  Only a mind reader could know for sure.  This recent article makes a lot of sense to me, though.  As the referenced marketing survey explains, there are six “green consumer myths” which, as is the case with most myths, are simply (although perhaps surprisingly) not true.  These include the myths that green consumers’ top concern is the environment, and that their main motivation is to save the planet.  In fact, their top concern is the economy, and they are motivated to reduce their energy bills and control costs.   

This is not to say that the community association board members who want solar power for their communities have no interest in the environment.  To the contrary, there is clearly a heightened concern for the environment which, as the above-referenced survey also points out, cuts across all demographics, including age, income and ethnicity.  Add to that increasing concerns about how new California legislation and regulations intended to address environmental concerns will impact their communities, and the change in attitude about the use of solar power in community associations is easy to understand.  Here in California, as so-called “climate bills” proliferate, concerns regarding shrinking natural resources such as water and strict regulations regarding the use of such resources grow, and the resulting uncertainty and anxiety about the economic impact this will all have on community associations and their members mounts, responsible board members are of course eager to explore all of their communities’ options to address these serious issues.

Serious issues, yes, but for California community associations, serious options as well.  In fact, I would argue that California community associations are facing these issues in a “perfect storm” of opportunities as well as risks.  California is, after all, leading the nation into the clean tech revolution, and renewable energy generation has been identified as a lynchpin of California’s economic recovery.

So, can it be done?  Can a community association obtain and benefit from a solar energy system?  Can it be financed, used, maintained and insured?  Are there particular legal, contractual and risk management issues which would apply specifically to community associations, and if so, can they be handled in such a way that they do not constitute a barrier, practically or financially, to such a project?  Can the risks of such a project translate to achievable benefits?  In my opinion, yes, yes and yes.  After over a year of analyzing, researching, conferencing, networking, studying, drafting, forming strategic relationships, expanding my mind and my legal skill sets, and good old fashioned hard work on all of these questions, my answer is a resounding . . .

 YES! 

In my next post, I’ll start explaining how, together, we can get there from here.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I would like to get in touch with you
    Please send me your email i would like to talk with you
    Thanks a lot
    Mark

    • Mark: I would be happy to speak with you. My contact information is available through the “Contact Me” link on my blog. My e-mail address is lec@lecmsquire.com.

  2. I have started a company (Pime Edison) with a partner and our goal is to do Solar sales and install. It’s just that the money is tight as well as financing. ROI on the projects are still high. Do you know something we don’t at this time and if so I would love to hear more about it. I like what your message say so far!

    Frank Hickey
    Prime Edison / PowerTek Electric
    (858) 229-2976
    frank.hickey1@gmail.com

    • Frank: In response to my posts, I have been contacted by one large bank with substantial experience lending to community associations which, I am told, intends to announce financing for solar energy programs for community associations in the Spring of 2010.

  3. Linda, great post! I am a board member of a small (9 unit) condo in Burlingame, CA. Our board is very interested in installing solar. I can’t find any information about the possibility of installing one system, and the HOA then “selling” electricity to the individual unit owners. Do you know if this is legal?

    Looking forward to your next post . . .

    • John, you are not the only one who is interested in this! I just posted this reply to a similar question regarding another of my posts on the topic of solar energy for community associations: “I am aware of a few (less than a handful) multifamily residential housing projects (apartments and condos) which incorporate at least some solar for the units (solar water heaters, for example), but they were designed that way before they were constructed. For already existing buildings which were not designed for solar power, I can think of several issues which would make providing solar power to individual units (as opposed to the common areas) difficult, including the issue you are facing regarding roof space. Other issues which come to mind are how each unit’s use of solar power would be monitored/metered, and the fact that community associations are generally not empowered, either by their governing documents or the State of California, to act as a utility (i.e., to sell power to their members). This is why I advocate a feasibility study for any association considering solar energy, so that the association has the benefit of an independent third party’s evaluation of its options.”


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