Solar gets state assist

CITY HALL — Scott Peer’s quest to install solar energy panels has attracted the attention of a state deputy attorney general who says that in blocking the project, the city is violating state law.

Peer has been sparring with city officials since 2008, when they nixed his plans to build a metal structure to support solar panels because it did not meet required setback and height restrictions.

The block came after Glendale Water & Power had already approved his solar project for a state rebate of about $10,000 for the installation, Peer said.

Under the California Solar Rights Act, cities are allowed to deny solar projects only for health or safety concerns, but city officials contend that structures built to support solar panels do not fall under the law and must be approved by the Community Planning Department.

“What he has basically proposed is a patio cover with solar panels on top,” said Chief Assistant City Atty. Michael Garcia. “Regardless of preemption, you still have to comply with zoning for the patio cover.”

But in a letter to the city’s Planning Commission, state Deputy Atty. Gen. Deborah Slon said that all aspects of a solar system, including any supporting structures, are covered under the state law.

“The statute appears to acknowledge that solar panels must be mounted on a building or other support structure in some way,” wrote Slon, who works in the attorney general’s environmental division.

Solar applications that don’t include a new structure or addition to support the panels require only a permit from the city’s Building and Safety Division, according to a city report.

Glendale resident Theresa Jowdy said she and her contractor had little difficulty acquiring the necessary permits to install solar panels on her roof.

The process took only a few weeks, she said.

“I am totally thrilled with it,” she said. “What it did for my utility bill was absolutely fantastic.”

The Planning Commission last month was scheduled to consider changes to the city’s review and permit process for solar projects, which Slon said must be amended to exempt proposals from local zoning regulations.

“We strongly urge the city of Glendale to correct its current noncompliance with the state Solar Rights Act,” Slon wrote.

Commissioners discussed the issue last fall, but opted against changing the process. When city officials received Slon’s letter Feb. 9, they requested more time for attorneys to review her concerns.

The City Council would have to approve any recommended changes.

Council members have repeatedly told Peer to apply for a zoning variance in the meantime, but he has argued that under state law he shouldn’t have to spend the additional time and money.

He pointed to his situation as an example of city officials adding roadblocks to sustainable building despite vocal City Council support for green building practices.

“They are putting up these obstacles to solar energy. We should be trying to encourage it,” Peer said. “They are adding to an already time consuming and expensive process.”

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