Solar Energy In A Historic District

Can you have solar energy in a Historic District?

Here's the quick answer. Yes, there will be a way.

On your roof via solar panels: sometimes.

On your roof through solar roof shingles: always.

Through community solar: always.

Okay, here's the details. Let's assume your house has a pitched roof, since most Laurelhurst houses do.

Portland's historic code says that, in a historic district, rooftop "solar panels" are automatically permitted if they are on the rear facing part of the pitched roof, the panels are at the same angle as the roof and don't stick up more than 1 foot from the roof or come closer than 3 feet to the edges of the roof. The idea, of course, is that such a solar panel installation will not be visible from the street, so it is automatically permitted, no review necessary.

If you want to install solar panels on other parts of your roof, where they will be visible, the project has to be reviewed. Covering the street-facing pitch of the roof with obtrusive solar panels is unlikely to be approved, but other solar panel installations may be allowed even if they are somewhat visible. For example, solar panels on garage roofs are frequently approved, such as here and here and here, even though they are not on rear facing pitches and thus are potentially visible from the street.

An alternative is "solar roof shingles", also called "building-integrated photovoltaics". Instead of bolting racks and separate panels to the existing roof, you replace some of the existing roof shingles with photovoltaic roof shingles that look, from a distance, much like the surrounding roof material. These don't present the review issues created by solar panels and racks, and

solar shingles have become price-competitive with bolt-on panels, and are getting much more popular accordingly. Eco-conscious home and building owners might find solar shingles especially attractive when they are re-shingling anyway since the solar shingles also double as functional, protective and weatherproof roof shingles in their own right.

See Sun Roof: Solar Panel Shingles. These solar shingles are available from several companies now, and new companies like Tesla are joining the market.

Another alternative that will soon be available in Oregon is "community solar". Last year, Oregon passed the "Clean Electricity And Coal Transition Plan" (SB 1547) that directs the Public Utilities Commission to establish a statewide community solar program. Community solar means that a homeowner in Laurelhurst will be able to buy or subscribe to a solar project elsewhere in Oregon, and receive the benefits just as if the electricity were being generated on his or her own roof.

A community solar project is one or more solar photovoltaic energy systems that provide owners and subscribers the opportunity to share the costs and benefits associated with the generation of electricity by the system(s). Residential or commercial customers who, for one reason or another, are unable to install or fully utilize a solar system on their property can either own or subscribe to a partial interest in a community solar project.

a community solar project need not be located within the service territory of the electric company that serves the customer—or even close to the customer. Western Oregon is infamous for its overcast skies, but Eastern Oregon is sunny 300 days out of the year.

Read more at Next Steps For Community Solar.

In short, in a Historic District, we can all have solar power if we want to. Whether through solar panels on a rear facing roof, solar panels on a garage roof, solar roof shingles on any part of the roof, or a community solar program in sunny Eastern Oregon, there will be a way that works for each of us.

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