Despite strong support for renewable-energy development at the state and local levels, many consumers still face local ordinances or homeowner association rules that prohibit, restrict or drastically increase the cost of installing a solar-energy system. Meanwhile, owners of existing systems face potential challenges when trees or new structures on neighboring properties shade their systems. Solar access laws, which may be implemented at both the state and local levels, are designed to protect a consumer’s right to install and operate a solar-energy system on a home or business, and to maintain access to sunlight.
At the state level, the most common type of solar access law is a solar easement. A solar easement allows the owner of a solar-energy system to secure rights to continued access to sunlight from a neighboring party whose property could be developed in such a way (e.g., building, landscaping) as to restrict the system’s access to sunlight. A solar rights law, on the other hand, provides protection by limiting or prohibiting private restrictions (e.g., neighborhood covenants and bylaws, local government ordinances and building codes) on the installation of solar-energy systems.
Local governments may be authorized to adopt ordinances to ensure solar access, development guidelines requiring proper street orientation, and zoning ordinances that contain building height restrictions to avoid shade from neighboring properties.
Status & Trends
Solar Easements. More than half of U.S. states authorize the creation of solar easements. The majority of solar easement statutes stipulate that any instrument creating such an agreement must contain the following elements:
Other common components of a solar easement include:
Such agreements must be in writing and are subject to the same recording and indexing requirements as other instruments affecting the title to real property. System owners may need to compensate a neighboring party in order to secure solar access rights. Such easements are typically transferred with the property title and do not terminate unless specified by conditions of the easement. In general, state laws that allow for voluntary solar easements may have limited effectiveness since system owners have no guarantee of an agreement with a neighbor whose property could interfere with access to sunlight.
Solar Rights. While securing voluntary agreements offers some protection for system owners, this approach does not address potential barriers imposed by local governments or homeowner associations on the initial installation of a solar-energy system. Nearly half of U.S. states have enacted solar rights laws, which typically limit restrictions that neighborhood covenants and/or local ordinances may impose on the installation of solar equipment. The laws vary in their provisions, especially with respect to the types of solar equipment protected, types of buildings covered, applicability of the law to existing buildings, and enforcement provisions. Vague or absent provisions in solar rights laws have led to lawsuits and delayed (or canceled) installations in a number of states.
An effective solar rights law typically:
DSIRE: Summary of Solar Access Laws, DSIRE, 2012.
A Comprehensive Review of Solar Access Law in the United States. Solar America Board for Codes and Standards, 2008.
Installing Solar Panels on Historic Buildings: A Survey of the Regulatory Environment. North Carolina Solar Center and National Trust for Historic Preservation, August 2012.
State and Local Policies Affecting the Advancement of Renewable Energy Sources. American Bar Association Energy Committee Newsletter, January 2007.
Solar Access Model Code and Recommendations. Solar America Board for Codes and Standards, 2008.
Clean Energy State Program Guide: Mainstreaming Solar Electricity: Strategies for States to Build Local Markets. Clean Energy Group and Peregrine Energy Group, April 2008.
Bringing Solar Energy to the Planned Community: A Handbook on Rooftop Solar Systems and Private Land Use Restrictions. Tom Starrs, Les Nelson and Fred Zalcman, 1999.
Disclaimer: The information presented on the DSIRE web site provides an unofficial overview of financial incentives and other policies. It does not constitute professional tax advice or other professional financial guidance, and it should not be used as the only source of information when making purchasing decisions, investment decisions or tax decisions, or when executing other binding agreements. Please refer to the individual contact provided below each summary to verify that a specific financial incentive or other policy applies to your project.
While the DSIRE staff strives to provide the best information possible, the DSIRE staff, the N.C. Solar Center, N.C. State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. make no representations or warranties, either express or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability or suitability of the information. The DSIRE staff, the N.C. Solar Center, N.C. State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. disclaim all liability of any kind arising out of your use or misuse of the information contained or referenced on DSIRE Web pages.