I installed solar on my home this summer. It’s a great feeling. Our system is lowering our electric bill and reducing our carbon footprint. I only wish I could have had the system sooner.
Thanks to a lengthy process of working with my homeowners association (HOA), it took me three years. I hope my story help you go solar more quickly.
How we got started
Solar energy has interested me for a number of years. However, for a long time installing solar panels didn’t seem affordable. We transitioned to electric vehicles first. In 2015, my family leased an all-electric car and a plug-in hybrid vehicle. We added a Level 2 charger in our garage. We paid for it with help from the available federal tax credit. There were also incentives available from the dealer and our electric utility, NIPSCO.
In 2017, Indiana General Assembly’s passed legislation that effectively set an end date for net metering. Net metering is the policy that ensures solar owners earn fair credit for the excess electricity we generate. Without this fair policy it can be difficult for solar to pencil out financially. After this legislation passed, our congregation at 8th Street Mennonite Church raised money in record time to add solar panels to the roof of our church. This let us secure 30 years of net metering. This led me to do further research and look into solar again for my home.
In August 2017, I attended a Solarize Northern Indiana event in Goshen. I received an estimate for the cost of installing solar panels on our south facing roof. We live in Keystone Pointe in southeastern Goshen. I submitted an exterior change request to my HOA’s Architectural Control Committee. This committee is responsible for reviewing and approving all exterior change requests of homeowners within the association. They do so in order to maintain a relatively uniform appearance of homes and to prevent changes by individual homeowners that would lower the value of other homes within the community.
The committee denied our request.
Our house was on the outside row of houses. The proposed solar panels would not be visible from the street or any of the other homes in the subdivision. I learned later that the committee split with two votes for and two opposed, with one of the opposed “strongly opposed” to approving our request.
That sent the request to the HOA Board. The Board emailed a survey to homeowners about our request. This straw poll resulted in a roughly 50/50 split for those that responded. It appeared that our request was denied due to a small but vocal minority that viewed solar panels as “ugly,” and out of a desire to avoid offending opposing members of the community. I reported the denial to the contractor and to Solarize Northern Indiana. At the time of the denial, I knew one other homeowner in our community was also planning to make a similar request if ours been approved.
Fighting for an HOA solar access law
In 2018, I learned about proposed Indiana state legislation that would have effectively limited HOA’s ability to deny homeowners access to installation of solar panels. It was modeled after legislation requiring HOAs to allow satellite dish installation. While the legislative effort was unsuccessful, I was able to use a newspaper article about the legislation to continue the conversation with the HOA board president. I also passed on any local articles regarding the City of Goshen’s efforts toward reducing the local carbon footprint and being solar friendly. I later learned others were doing the same.
Our HOA holds an annual meeting each fall. There it was noted that proposed state legislation would likely be coming up again. This was cited as a reason the HOA “might not have a choice” about whether or not to allow solar panels.
In 2019, HOA solar access bills passed both houses in the Indiana General Assembly but died in committee. This was due to lack of time to reconcile the differences in the bills. I again passed this information on to the board without knowing whether they were actively following the issue. Sometime relatively early in 2019, I received an email note from a member of the Architectural Control Committee. It informed me that the committee “is likely to be more receptive” to a new request.
Joining with more neighbors to make another request
This was because another homeowner was submitting an application to go solar. This homeowner happened to be a member of the committee. The member also submitted a sample HOA solar policy with some edits that he thought could serve as a basis for a policy for our HOA. In all, four homeowners submitted external change requests to the committee. About the same time, I learned that there was another round of the Solarize Northern Indiana initiative.
This time the HOA did a more thorough poll asking if members approved or opposed these requests. The results of the poll were roughly 60/40 in favor of approval. Overall, only about 20% of the community expressed opposition if non-responders are considered “not opposed”. However, once again the requests were denied “until the board could develop a policy” for solar panels. The task of developing the policy was assigned to the past president of the HOA board.
Success in 2020
Early in 2020, we were informed that the board approved the new solar panel policy. We were provided copies and invited to submit new requests. The four homeowners met and decided to seek estimates from the two contractors that were part of the 2019 Solarize Northern Indiana initiative and to agree on a contractor and panels. This way all the requests would be uniform in appearance. We subsequently met with both contractors and selected Wellspring Solar. They offered a panel with a uniformly black appearance that did not show obvious borders around each panel.
The Committee finally approved our requests! The first two homes began producing electricity in June 2020, and the last two flipped the switch at the very end of June.
Although it took three years to secure approval, the benefits of the solar panels are already adding up. The four homes produced about 9,500 kWh of solar electricity in the first two months. This is equivalent to avoiding carbon emissions from the grid electricity that one home uses in an entire year, not driving 16,500 miles, avoiding burning 750 gallons of gasoline, or planting 110 trees.
There is strength in numbers. If you are thinking about going solar, it’s likely a neighbor is as well. The more people in your community there are that support solar, the more likely it is that your HOA will approve your request.
The other thing to remember is that for many people, solar is still a relatively new technology. If your board members are opposed at first, take time to educate them. You might be surprised at who will end up supporting you.