One of the biggest hindrances to solar production is shade. So, before installing a solar energy installation, you want to make sure that any solar panels on your property receive as much sunlight as possible. If you live in close proximity to a neighbor whose trees or built structures have the potential to shade your property today or in the future, it’s a good idea to consider obtaining a solar easement.
What is a solar easement?
A solar easement allows property owners to legally protect their access to sunshine. In other words, a solar easement is your right as a property owner to direct sunlight for your solar energy system.
Solar easements can be important in ensuring that your solar panel system is producing optimal levels of electricity, as shading can play a large overall role in solar electricity production and the economics of your installation. For example, let’s say your neighbor has some trees on their property that are relatively close to your property line and roof: you may be able to obtain a solar easement from your neighbor that stipulates that their trees can only grow to a certain height before being trimmed or cut down because the height of their trees will impact the amount of sunlight hitting your solar panel installation.
Importantly, all solar easements are voluntary: even if your state or local jurisdiction allows for the creation of solar easements, your neighbor needs to agree to the easement agreement in the first place. However, property owners obtaining solar easements often negotiate by offering some sort of compensation for signing such an agreement.
Once a solar easement is enacted, it’s tied to the property. This means that, should your neighbor sell their home, the new owner would still need to abide by the original easement agreement.
What needs to be included in a solar easement?
A legally-binding solar easement needs to have a detailed description of easement and the specific area where it’s in effect. This often means including specific vertical and horizontal angles that must remain open to sunlight, or maximum heights and widths of shrubbery and buildings close to the property line. Easements can also be specific to certain times and dates during the year – for example, you may have a solar easement that’s specific to summer months when your neighbor’s trees are full of leaves.
Solar easements also list any circumstances in which said easement can be canceled or voided, and any incurred penalties for breaking the solar easement agreement.
Solar easements vs. solar access laws
Solar easements aren’t the only policy tool available to help protect a property owner’s right to sunshine; many states go a step further by having solar access laws that protect the right of property owners to install a solar energy system on their property.
If you live in a state or city with solar access laws, there are measures in place to prevent your neighbors, homeowners association (HOA), town, and more from prohibiting you to install solar panel system. However, solar access laws will vary from state to state: even if the law ensures the right for you to install solar on your property, restrictions may still be in place that can make it very difficult to do so. For instance, even if it’s illegal for your HOA to forbid you from installing solar panels, they may still specify certain installation setbacks, restrict the location of the installation, or only permit certain types of solar panel installations for aesthetic reasons.
States with solar easement policies
The following states have enacted laws that protect a property owner’s right to form a solar easement:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
If your state isn’t listed, it’s possible they offer other forms of solar protection, such as solar access laws. Additionally, your local town or city may have their own laws or policies in place to allow for solar easements.
Access solar savings where the sun is shining
So long as your property experiences an abundance of sunshine, you can save on electricity bills with solar power. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you can receive up to seven quotes from pre-screened local installers to compare. These quotes will factor in access to sunlight on your specific property, accounting for any shade, nearby buildings, and more. If you’d prefer to start your solar research with a ballpark estimate of costs and savings, try our Solar Calculator.