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As lawmakers continue to push for broad changes to Michigan’s clean energy laws, some legislators are working to craft policy to address concerns from Michiganders looking to take advantage of energy-saving measures.
In late September, state Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) introduced House Bill 5028, which would invalidate provisions of homeowner association (HOA) agreements that prohibit homeowners from making energy-saving improvements or modifications to their homes.
These improvements would include air or ground source heat pumps, rain barrels, insulation, clotheslines, reflective roofing, energy efficient appliances, solar water heaters, electric charging equipment, energy efficient windows and insulation materials and solar panels.
The bill would also require associations to adopt a written solar energy policy statement within a year of the bill taking effect. The policy cannot conflict with existing local, state or federal law and cannot prohibit the installation of a solar energy system.
However, associations would retain some control over solar energy arrays installed in their communities.
“We’re not trying to create the wild, wild West here,” Puri said in an interview with the Advance.
In the bill, homeowner associations can deny an application or require the removal of a solar energy system if a court finds the installation of a system violates a law, if the installed system doesn’t conform with the association member’s approved application, or if the system doesn’t conform to certain standards.
An association can deny an application or request removal if the system extends more than six inches from a roof, the system does not conform to the slope of the roof, or if the system’s frame, brackets, conduit or wiring are not silver, bronze or black.
It can also deny or request removal of a solar energy system that would be installed in a fenced yard or patio and would be taller than the fence line.
“You can’t just do what you want. [The solar panels] need to be aesthetically pleasing. The wires need to be tucked away, they need to be a certain color. They need to match, you know, the aesthetics of the neighborhood,” Puri said.
The bill does not apply to installing solar-energy systems, or energy-saving improvements made in common areas or on shared roofs.
Oftentimes when individuals are blocked from installing solar panels, it’s purely for aesthetic reasons, Puri said.
“That’s just not a good enough reason,” Puri said.
The intent of the bill is to return power to residents and authority to municipalities that might have ordinances to allow for solar panels that are blocked by homeowner associations, Puri said.
“If you want to put up an EV charger, you know, you shouldn’t be blocked just because some HOA says that you can’t have one. Same goes with solar panels and a couple of the other things [in the bill],” Puri said.
“We are purely solving a very niche issue where you know, if an individual owner owns a single family home and wants to put in solar he or she cannot be blocked, purely because an HOA says, unilaterally, that that’s not allowed,” Puri said.
While the bills have drawn support from environmental organizations and energy industry representatives, alongside some local government organizations, the bills have received some pushback from the Michigan Realtors and representatives of homeowner associations.
We're not trying to create the wild, wild West here.
– State Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton)
Matthew Heron, an attorney and co-chair of the Community Associations Institute’s Michigan Legislative Action Committee, says the bills undermine the authority of homeowner associations to regulate solar panels, as well as other architectural components like windows.
While the bill has been revised to clarify that it would only apply to single family residencies, Heron said the exclusion of shared-roof residencies from the bill doesn’t wholly differentiate between condo associations and homeowners, as some multi-home buildings may have staggered roofs.
During the Thursday meeting of the House Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee, Brad Ward, vice president of public policy and legal affairs for Michigan Realtors, said the organization would like to see additional clarification on protecting common areas and had additional questions on freestanding solar arrays.
“A lot of these HOAs don’t even allow for fences or above ground pools or out structures or sheds. So we wanted to talk about that,” Ward said.
Both the Community Associations Institute and Michigan Realtors pointed out potential concerns with the bill’s energy policy requirements, as well.
While the bill initially required associations to craft its solar energy policy within 90 days, rather than a year, opponents say this extension may still come up short for volunteer-run associations.
Although a year is a realistic timeframe for a community to adopt these new standards, most associations in Michigan are run by volunteers, and not all associations have attorneys, Heron said.
While the yearlong timeframe is helpful for communities who are in tune with these potential obligations, there will be a sizable number of associations who do not learn about the requirements until it is too late, Heron said.
To address this issue, Ward recommended the bill be revised to include cookie-cutter language that associations can add to their bylaws to meet this requirement.
Rather than requiring HOAs to allow solar panels, Heron said the Community Associations Institute would prefer language that would incentivize community associations to work with individuals who would like to install solar panels. It could also offer its criteria for rejecting solar panel applications as options, rather than prescribing them, Heron said.
The legislation was voted out of committee, and is now before the full House for further consideration.
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