While solar panels are often considered unsightly, they are a renewable energy device. For an individual home, they must be permitted by a homeowners association. However, they can be regulated. The relevant statute regarding solar panels is Section 163.04, Florida Statutes, which provides that no ordinances or laws can prohibit “the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources.” The Statute is not limited in its application to government agencies. It also confirms that no community association can prohibit (directly or indirectly) owners from installing renewable resources “on the lots or parcels” covered by a “deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or binding agreement.” Denial by the Board or Architectural Control Committee (“ACC”) of a request to install a renewable energy device, such as a solar collector, is expressly prohibited by the Statute. The Board, or ACC, however is not without a say in the installation. They can set certain guidelines. For instance, with solar collectors, they can determine the location of an installation so long as it does not impair the ability of the solar collector to do its work. But what else can be done?
In City of Ormond Beach vs. Del Marco, 426 So.2d 1029 (5th DCA, 1983), the Fifth DCA reviewed the legislative intent with regard to a windmill installed by an Owner and, given the language of Section 163.04, Florida Statutes, set forth the following standard:
“Section 163.04 eliminates the need to prove a hardship as a basis for the property owner’s desire to install the energy device, but it does not, however, mean that [the Owner, Mr. Del Marco] can place the windmill where he pleases or to such height as he pleases. He must still abide by the setback and height restrictions of the zoning ordinance, unless he can demonstrate the requisites for a variance; i.e., that the variance is needed so that the windmill can operate satisfactorily…He may not be entitled to “optimum” performance, if something less than that produces satisfactory performance of the windmill.”
In another case, the 5th DCA found a community association could require information and assurances that the renewal energy device would be properly installed. In addition, the Court found that the association could have required the owner to submit documentation and proof that the devices fell under the umbrella of Section 163.04 of the Statute, and that the association could have obtained a roof inspection to determine the quality and competency of the installation, at the owners expense.
Based on the foregoing, an association may not prohibit the use of renewable energy source devices. However, an association may impose restrictions, as long as such restrictions do not have the effect of preventing the reasonable use of such devices. An association can require diagrams and other information, which show the dimensions, location(s), layout of the proposed solar panels, illustrations of how the panels will be mounted on the roof, and the location of all wires and conduits. The association can also require a system sizing determination, which shows the relation of the solar panels to be installed in relation to the current historical electric consumption of the house. The association can also regulate the height of the solar panels from the surface of the roof. If an association wishes to regulate solar panels and other renewable energy devices, it should contact its attorney in order to obtain assistance in providing guidelines that comply with Florida law.