Darn those young vegan-organic-diet, yoga-loving hippies with their electric cars and their solar panels. They must all be moving up to Plano from Austin, and frankly the Plano home builders and developers won't stand for it.
In 2011, state legislation forbade Home Owners Associations from banning solar panels on homes. But a fine-print clause pushed by the Texas Homebuilders Association stipulates that if a neighborhood is still under development, neighborhood developers and the HOA have the right to stop homeowners from installing solar panels.
Plano residents have been particularly proactive in the push for solar panels. Solarize Plano and the Plano Solar Advocates have both pushed the city to encourage wider adoption of solar panels. But the little-known exception to state law came to light when a homeowner in the Trails of Glenwood neighborhood -- apparently an area with as medieval an attitude as its name -- denied one resident's request to install panels on his roof.
The reason developers give for this rule is that solar panels are not aesthetically pleasing, and in areas that are still under development they could inhibit sales. Plano Solar Advocates received the following response from the Plano-area homebuilders:
The concern is, by allowing the installation of unsightly solar panels and equipment there would be a negative impact on the aesthetic quality of the entire community. So while solar panels would be a positive with regard to energy savings of the individual homeowner, it could negatively impact the rest of the property owners in Trails of Glenwood via diminished property values.
Larry Howe, who's spearheading the solar movement in Plano with Plano Solar Advocates, scoffs at the homebuilders' response. "It's really kind of an old argument. They're [solar panels] still new in some areas and people just have to get used to it," he says. "The technology is available now, so a person should be able to generate their own electricity. It's a fact of life."
Plano environmental advocates are now pushing for greater transparency regarding any possible limitations to solar panel installation. Howe says many local residents aren't aware of the stringent requirements when they purchase a home. And the neighborhood development can continue for several years, delaying homeowners' solar panel installation for at least that long.
"The builders are nervous that they won't be able to sell lots, but I think it's the other way around. Ten years ago if people put up panels you could make an argument, but there are codes, and these are professionally installed," says Howe. "So we think the builders should be making their homes solar ready. They're doing that in other cities, but we think that should change here too."