RSF Association board approves solar energy regulation

The RSF Association continues to update its regulatory code.

The Rancho Santa Fe Association approved a new regulatory code chapter on solar energy systems at the July 2 board meeting. The vote was 5-2 with Vice President Mike Gallagher and Director Sharon Ruhnau opposed.

The new regulatory code chapter on solar establishes some requirements for solar systems to minimize the visual impact on neighbors while adhering to new state standards—California is the first state to require solar power on all new homes. The chapter addresses the elevations, screening, color and maximum height of ground and roof-mounted solar projects in the Ranch.

Per the regulation, where “reasonably possible and without incurring substantial additional expense or significantly reducing the efficiency of the system,” solar energy systems shall be ground-mounted. The maximum height off the ground for solar panels shall be 5 feet unless approved by the Art Jury.

The regulation provides for a maximum height of six inches above the roof material for systems installed on slanted roofs and mandates screening to block views of systems installed on flat roofs.

At the meeting, Gallagher reiterated his concerns about the 5-foot height limit on ground-mounted solar—he said the limit seemed “nonsensical” as every property is unique and the limit could negatively impact the efficiency of the panels.

“I think it’s too rigid a standard to say 5 feet,” Gallagher said. “It gets in the way of the right efficient system for that property and does not allow the flexibility for homeowners to do it properly.”

Ruhnau said her objection was also with respect to the height and she believed there should be a range. By comparison, the county’s maximum height is 12 feet.

Since the regulation was last reviewed in May, RSF Association Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki added the line about the Art Jury being able to take other matters into consideration regarding the 5-foot height limit. In the event they are dealing with a site-specific situation where something is blocking the solar panels, the Art Jury may consider a placement that’s higher.

She said in preparing the regulation, the Association staff did a lot of research with two different solar companies discussing the orientation and tilt of installations. Babaki also noted that submittals the Art Jury has received over the past year are rarely more than 5 feet high because it is not necessary and it increases the costs of the installation.

“We believe based on this criteria and the fact that the tilt does not change very much, 5 feet is a very reasonable number,” Babaki said.

While he was in favor of approving the regulation, Director Bill Strong shared concerns about applications that have an excessive number of panels. He said he was surprised that the regulation did not have a line stating that applications for systems that are in excess of what is necessary to power the home are discouraged.

President Rick Sapp said that the Association can continue to investigate the points raised and if the Art Jury runs into problems in the practice of the regulation, it can be modified.

As Babaki continues work on updating the regulatory code, the board is expected to consider approval of Chapter 49 on exterior building materials at its August meeting.