Residents: Looks matter

(Kent Treptow)

When Bob Olson’s Sunday afternoon was disrupted by a beam of light glaring down onto the porch of his cozy Balboa Island home, he sprang into action.

The May appearance of 168 solar panels, which face the northeast side of Balboa Island from a hill, has left Olson with a two-and-a-half hour window daily in which the reflecting sunlight creates an intense glare, he said.

Olson is organizing a coalition of homeowners to take action against the project, starting with a petition to the city to have the panels moved to the Rizzone’s rooftop near their home on the hillside above Bayside Drive.

“I’m all for going green, and I’m not trying to stop anyone from having solar panels,” Olson said. “What I don’t understand is why in the world they didn’t put the panels on the roof, where it would be more fitting with the look of the community.”

The 3,000-square-foot solar project is part of Stephen and Mashid Rizzone’s longstanding plan to create a fully “green” dream home and impart to their children a legacy of environmental responsibility, Stephen Rizzone said.

“We are certainly concerned about our neighbors, and we have tried to respond to all concerns as best we can,” Rizzone said. “We have made every effort to comply with all laws and regulations. The project is fully permitted and approved by the city.”

However, the solar panels are here to stay, said Rizzone.

Some light reflecting off the panels is a natural effect caused by the protective glass casing that covers many of manufacturer’s solar panels, said Lori Green, director of research and development for the UC Irvine Center for Solar Energy.

Anti-reflective coating used on all glass coverings should make any reflection almost unnoticeable, she said.

Plastic coverings, which are less reflective, but also less durable, are beginning to be used by manufacturers in small, rooftop installations.

But plastic may not be the practical choice for a few more years, Green

While glass covers the Rizzone’s solar panels, the glass is tempered to decrease glare, said Rita Edwards, marketing manager for Northern California-based Premier Power Renewable Energy.

Premier Power installed the solar panels in the Rizzone’s project and has used the same tempered glass coverings in past projects with success, including a 2008 development at a Nevada airport where minimizing glare was the upmost priority, Edwards said.

Olson, who designed and had a hand in building his home in 2005, planned his Balboa Island residence with the intention of preserving the “village look” of the neighborhood, he

“Every detail, from the materials used on the roof door to the color of my front door, was kept in mind with respect of my neighbors and their homes,” Olson said.

In the past, homeowners associations on Balboa Island and Irvine Terrace, which regulates the neighborhoods around Bayside Drive, have prevented homeowners from making changes that would change the established “look” of a neighborhood, Olson said.

Under the California Solar Rights Act, homeowner associations and city government are prohibited from denying permits or otherwise preventing the installation of solar panels based on aesthetics.

However, Olson believes he has found an answer by applying a 2004 amendment, Assembly Bill 2473, which allows for the relocation of solar panels as long as moving the panels does not cost more than 20 percent of the total project or lower it’s efficiency by 20 percent.

Lawyers whom Olson has consulted with have been in agreement with his interpretation of the amendment, he said; although he has not signed with any firm as of Wednesday.

It is not clear as to whether the amendment, which may have been intended to regulate projects before installation, will also apply to projects that have been already completed.

As a finishing phase to the solar panels, landscapers are planting trees on the hill to soften the look, Rizzone said.

Rizzone is confident that neighbors will be more comfortable once the landscaping is completed and they see the final, finished look of the entire “green” project.

“The posts are planted 22 feet into the ground and surrounded by cement,” Rizzone said. “It’s in and it’s not going anywhere.”