Shedding Light

December 11, 2008

One interesting tidbit of information that came out of the discussions of the 7A fire requirements and upcoming changes to the Town’s Building Guidelines and General Plan was the reference to the California Solar Rights Act. Town Manager Susan George’s recent Report can be found here, on page 13. It says:

“The Town Attorney has provided me with a copy of a law review article from the University of San Diego which contains a good discussion of the California Solar Rights Act. It is attached for your review and information. We are looking at the Act and its impact upon the Town and are considering the development of an ordinance to assist staff in implementing the provisions of the Act. We have already had to approve a permit for the installation of a ground-mounted solar system proposed to be located in the setback of the involved parcel because this location had no specific adverse impact upon public health or safety. I believe the Municipal Code should include a clear provision recognizing staff’s need to approve such applications because of the California Solar Rights Act. We are working with the Town Attorney to address this and to draft adequate provisions for the Town Council’s consideration.”

The referenced article, produced by the Energy Policy Initiatives Center at the University of San Diego School of Law can be found here. So it appears that instead of embracing the greening of Woodside, the Town has been resistant. As Susan George put it, “we’ve already HAD TO approve a permit…”

The Solar Rights Act is not new has been in effect since January 1979 so it should not be a surprise to City Managers, Planners and Building Officials. It prevents cities from adopting ordinances that create unreasonable barriers to the installation of solar energy systems, including, but not limited to, design review for aesthetic purposes. The intent of the legislation is to encourage the installation of solar energy systems by removing obstacles to, and minimizing costs of, permitting for such systems. Therefore the Town is required to approve applications to install solar energy systems administratively through the issuance of a building permit or similar nondiscretionary permit.

Review of the application to install a solar energy system must be limited to the building official’s review of whether it meets all health and safety requirements necessary to ensure that the solar energy system will not have a specific, adverse impact upon the public health or safety. In order to deny an application to install a solar energy system the Town must make written findings, based upon substantial evidence in the record, that the proposed installation would have a specific, adverse impact upon the public health or safety, and there is no feasible method to satisfactorily mitigate or avoid the specific, adverse impact. The findings must include the basis for the rejection of potential feasible alternative ways of preventing the adverse impact. Any conditions imposed on an application to install a solar energy system must be designed to mitigate the specific, adverse impact upon the public health and safety at the lowest cost possible.

We agree with Susan’s call for an ordinance on solar access in Woodside. We hope the purpose of the ordinance will explain the application and appeal process and not create barriers to the use of solar systems.

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