New Mexico Solar & HOAs: What You Need to Know
Homeowners Associations (HOAs) make up a minority of homes in New Mexico but are still significant in many ways. Around 14 percent of New Mexico residents live in an HOA, and a bit more than 20 percent of all homes in New Mexico are part of an HOA. If you own a home in New Mexico, there’s a decent chance that you live in an HOA. If you live in an HOA, then knowing the ways in which HOAs interact with solar will help you tremendously. We’ll cover some of these interactions here, so you’ll have a good idea of your solar rights.
Knowing Your New Mexico Solar Rights with HOAs
New Mexico is a very solar-friendly state, which is why it made it onto our list of top states for solar in 2021. The reasons range from geography to government policies, but one of the big reasons is that New Mexico has instituted several rights for solar.
New Mexico Solar Rights Act
In 1977, New Mexico passed a bill called the Solar Rights Act, which established some key protections for solar energy. One of the main protections is that it codified solar energy as a property right for New Mexico property owners. Another one of the provisions of the act was the establishment of solar easements. These are legal contracts that can be established for your property, which prohibit your neighbors from building additions or planting trees that might shade your solar panels. The bill ensures that you will always be guaranteed a minimum amount of energy-producing hours per day. You won’t have to worry about the possibility of your panels being blocked.
The 2007 Solar Collector Definitions and Restrictions Bill
This amendment to the Solar Rights Act contains one of the most important provisions for homeowners in HOAs. HOAs have quite a bit of authority over the aesthetics of their area. They can regulate everything from the length of the lawn to the color of your house — and, for a time, the placement of your solar panels. Solar panels were categorized as an aesthetic affront and were regulated by many HOAs in ways that made them effectively impossible to install.
The 2007 amendment to the Solar Rights Act sought to change that. The key provision of the bill was to crack down on codes and bills established by cities and HOAs that effectively prevented homeowners from installing solar panels. By outlawing these particular codes, the amendment reopened solar to many homeowners.
Gary King, former Attorney General of New Mexico, weighed in on the bill in 2011, specifically touching upon HOAs. In his opinion he wrote, “Accordingly, the phrase “effectively prohibits” should be applied not only to those regulations or requirements that actually render impossible the installation or use of solar collectors, it should also be applied to those regulations or requirements that add cost or difficulty to the installation or use of solar collectors to a degree that would deter a reasonable consumer.”
While he did not say that homeowners associations are never allowed to require approval before the installation of a solar collector, he did note that many cases wherein HOAs do so violate the 2007 bill. His main focus of the opinion was onerous regulations passed by associations that would de facto ban solar panels, even if they technically did not.
Additionally, one of his worries within his opinion was that these regulations would provoke a “chilling effect.” A chilling effect is a phrase used in legal circles to refer to people not utilizing their legal and constitutional rights because of potential legal reactions. A chilling effect can come as the result of laws, municipal codes, and even the mere threat of a lawsuit.
For example, one of the landmark legal cases was Lamont vs. Postmaster General (1965), wherein a post office was requiring people who wished to receive communist literature to sign up in person at the post office. While there were no legal consequences for doing so, the fact that one had to sign up in person for this unpopular literature, and thus make themselves known to the wider public, was argued to have a chilling effect. People would rather stay home and not receive the literature instead of signing up and potentially having their reputation ruined. This provision was struck down by the courts.
In a similar way, HOA regulations could have a chilling effect on going solar. They may not have prohibited solar panels writ large, but, in some instances, they did make potential solar homeowners jump through so many hoops as to make it basically impossible. By striking down these HOA regulations, the New Mexico state senate reopened solar to many people who otherwise would not have been able to get it installed, even if they weren’t technically barred from doing so. For more information about municipal solar codes in New Mexico, take a look at section 3-18-32 of New Mexico’s statutes.
HOAs and Solar Aesthetics: What You Can Do
Even if discriminating against going solar is now illegal, that doesn’t mean that you should flout your solar array — particularly if the HOA isn’t too keen on solar panels. You may dislike their policies, but HOAs can potentially control such a wide part of your life that it pays to stay in their good graces.
What Your Solar Panels Look Like Matters
One of the main reasons why HOAs dislike solar panels is because they are considered by some to be ugly. One way to keep your home looking good with solar panels is to install monocrystalline solar panels. Unlike polycrystalline solar panels, which are blue and often clash with the rest of the house, monocrystalline solar panels are sleek and black. They often blend into your roof — and they’re more efficient to boot. It is for this reason that Go Solar Group primarily uses monocrystalline solar panels, engineered by the German company Axitec and manufactured in America. See why we say that monocrystalline solar panels are the best solar panels in New Mexico.
Solar Glare: Alleviating HOA Concern
Another aesthetic complaint that’s commonly leveled against solar panels is that they can cast solar glare onto neighboring houses or drivers. They say that the glare is not only unsightly — it’s also dangerous. Luckily, we have covered frequently asked questions about solar glare previously on this blog. To make a long story short, there is little scientific evidence suggesting that solar glare can cause any hazards. Solar panels are also tilted to catch the sun, and this tilt happens to reflect extra light back into the sky. Your neighbors, visitors, and commuters are unlikely to see any glare from your panels whatsoever.
Informing Your HOA of the Benefits of Solar Power
Many people still have misconceptions about the cost and benefits of solar energy. This may make them less likely to view solar positively. Luckily, we have you covered. We previously covered how going solar is good for the environment in New Mexico. Some of those points may help sway your HOA into viewing solar more favorably.
Why Droughts Matter and How Solar Panels Can Help
In particular, combating droughts will be especially important to HOAs. Given their focus on aesthetics, many HOAs will care deeply about how green your lawn is, how long it can be, etc. However, during a drought, many towns and cities will implement water conservation measures, including limiting how often you can water your lawn. Lawn watering restrictions can lead to ugly, brown, dead yards in your area. Solar can help alleviate drought concerns. Many forms of energy production require large amounts of water, generally for cooling. The more people go solar, the less these plants need to utilize lots of water. The less water they use, the more water will be available for municipalities. This means green lawns and blooming flower gardens. Additionally, the more people go solar and the less water is needed for these power plants, the less likely it is that you’ll face power outages in your area. When drought strikes particularly hard, some power generation facilities will have to shut down, as they will not be able to produce energy safely. If more people go solar, these facilities will not have to produce as much power. This puts less strain on the grid, leading to fewer possibilities for brownouts or grid failures.
HOAs and Solar Power Moving Forward
One of the other reasons that HOAs should get used to the idea of solar power is that the state of New Mexico is continuing to push it. While the New Mexico Climate Solutions Act did not pass in the 2021 legislative session, it is very likely that the bill, or a similar one, will pass in 2022. These types of bills seek to limit the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels and push renewable energy. The more bills like this are passed, the more likely it is that homeowners will turn to solar to bridge the gap. This is also something that is considered at a national level, with many people worried about what the implications of climate change will be for national security. With both state and federal level initiatives for more renewable energy and less dependence on fossil fuel, HOAs will have to get used to solar panels becoming a common sight on their members’ homes. Don’t antagonize — educate! The more HOA boards and presidents know about solar power and the benefits it brings to HOA members, the more likely they are to approve solar installations.