Planning and Zoning for Rooftop Solar
Clear regulations provide predictability and consistency. A detailed summary of the planning and zoning work group’s findings can be viewed here.
Policy and Zoning Tools
Solar in Comprehensive Plans – How local governments can add goals and guiding principles that support solar energy development.
Solar in Development Regulations – How local governments can proactively facilitate residential solar energy systems.
By law, HOAs cannot prohibit installation of solar PV systems as long as the system meets all health, safety, and performance standards required by state and local permitting authorities. However, HOAs may establish “reasonable” rules related to aesthetics and placement of solar equipment. (RCW 64.38.055)
Solar Ready Buildings and Model Ordinances
Solar ready buildings are designed so that rooftop solar systems can be added at a later date with relative ease. Solar ready standards include prescribed roof load capacity, location of wiring conduit, and proper roof orientation and exposure. See Solar Ready Construction for a discussion of the issues.
Rights and Solar Easements
Solar access is the ability of one property to continue to receive sunlight across property lines without obstruction. Solar rights codified in Washington law state that zoning ordinances cannot prohibit installation of a solar energy panel by the property’s owner or resident. Private housing developments may impose covenants, conditions, or other restrictions to limit the placement of solar systems. Solar easement is the specific, permanent right to have access to direct sunlight through a particular space. Without a formal easement, property owners do not have the ability to require removal of obstructions on adjacent properties. In Washington, property owners are allowed to enter into voluntary solar easements, which must be written and recorded. (RCW 64.04.140)
The 2012 International Fire Code includes a new chapter on solar PV, with provisions that could restrict placement of rooftop solar panels. In Washington State, a Fire Code technical advisory group developed modifications to the code that would ensure adequate roof access and ventilation for first responders without unnecessarily limiting solar PV options. See a presentation of the challenges here: Fire Code Webinar 2013. Read the resulting Solar & Fire Code WAC 51-54A-0605 that went into effect on April 1, 2014.
This webinar presented the proposed 2012 IFC solar PV language, and proposed alternatives to ensure safety and solar PV together. Delivered June, 2013.
As part of the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership, the Solar Foundation has released this 28-page guide to educate homeowner association boards and other community leaders on strategies for bringing more solar to their communities. Published June 2013.
This Evergreen State Solar Partnership webinar covered local and national best practices and examples for model ordinances, tree considerations, solar ready buildings, solar easements, and historic buildings. Delivered February 26, 2013.
Published by the Evergreen State Solar Partnership, this report explores best practices that local governments can implement to develop comprehensive planning policies, solar access regulations and standards, and streamlined permitting processes. The full report includes resources, templates, and examples of solar-friendly policies and codes. Published March 2013.
Planners have important roles to play in making sure plans and land use regulations encourage clean, safe energy sources. This essential information packet provides an extensive collection of sample ordinances on solar access, solar siting, and solar energy systems large and small. Published July 2011.