Solar panels on rooftops

Homeowners who live in homeowner associations and condo associations could soon have the right to install solar panels on their roofs. With a 32 to 1 vote, the Ohio Senate earlier this week passed Senate Bill 61, a bill making it easier to install rooftop solar. The bill moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration. 

The single ‘no’ in the Ohio Senate came from Republican Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg). Antani, who previously served three terms as an Ohio House of Representative. Antani made national headlines in 2018 suggesting students over the age of 18 should be able to bring rifles to school.

Antani also in 2018 accepted $7,000 from the Friends of Larry Householder PAC, which has since 2015 received $120,000 in donations from FirstEnergy Political Action Committee ($38,708), the Ohio Coal PAC ($18,700), and the American Electric Power Committee for Responsible Government ($17,500).

Even so, the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors, with a mission to further rooftop solar and advocate for solar policies, told the Free Press that fossil fuel and utility lobbies have not weighed in on the bill.

“No statements or testimony was given in opposition to Senate Bill 61 on the floor or during its five hearings,” said Solar United Neighbors spokesperson Denise Robbins. “We don’t anticipate there being opposition from those [fossil fuel or utility] sectors.”

Instead, dozens of homeowners, non-profits, trade groups, and solar installers spoke in favor of the bill.

Democrat State Sen. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood and a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 61 stated in a press release, “In Ohio, solar energy is one of the fastest growing sectors, providing increased employment opportunities and supporting local supply chains.”

The bill stops homeowner associations (HOAs) from telling condo owners they can’t install solar panels unless an HOA is responsible for the maintenance of the owner’s roof or where solar panels can be installed.

“If you own your roof, you should have the right to install solar on it,” said Tristan Rader, program director for Ohio office of Solar United Neighbors. “We believe that people should have that basic freedom to decide their energy source. As thousands of homeowners across the state have found, solar is a safe, affordable and reliable way to power homes. We want to make sure everyone has the same access.”

Currently, Ohio law allows HOAs to restrict the ability of homeowners to go solar. This can make going solar more expensive and stop homeowners from going solar at all. SB 61 is seeking to fix that, say advocates, doing away with unreasonable restrictions on solar within homeowners’ associations. 

“The American Dream is often synonymous with the idea of homeownership,” said Steven Mastrantonio, a homeowner in Akron prohibited from installing solar by his HOA. “But curtailing the benefits of homeownership is the restriction to the right to control the ability to power your home.”

Columbus condo owner Michael Schaalhad to collect 137 signatures to get his HOA to consider his application for solar panels. For comparison, it takes 50 signatures to run for congress in Ohio.

“We were eventually able to reapply to the HOA and get approval for a solar panel system. However, the entire process took over a year,” Schaal said. “Yes, we were ultimately able to get solar on our home, but it was not without having to spend considerable time and resources on a process that, in my mind, should have been very straightforward.”

If passed, SB 61 should create high-paying jobs in Ohio.

“To date, we have over 200 documented cases of HOAs denying solar projects for homeowners who want to have access to their own solar,” said Antonio Ranieri, owner and president of Solar is Freedom, a Cincinnati-based solar installer. “These projects would equate to over $5 million in revenue and would justify a minimum of 10 more W2 Ohio employees in our company alone. If Ohio wants to be a leader in renewable energy and green jobs, we need to start by simply allowing all homeowners to have access to choose solar.”

Solar advocates aren’t the only ones backing this bill. The Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national organization that works to better community associations, supports SB 61.

Also supporting the bill are Ohio Environmental Council Fund, the Conservative Energy Forum, and other non-profit solar installers, trade groups, and homeowners. 

SB 61 has transitioned to the Ohio House of Representatives for further consideration.