Illinois reduces power HOAs have over distributed solar projects


Illinois homeowners now have more protection than ever from outside interference when installing a residential solar system, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law HB 644, an act which significantly reduces the influence that community organizations, like homeowners associations, have over their members going solar.

The law both expands the reach of and closes loopholes created by a similar piece of legislation, passed in 2011. Most notably, the law rescinds the ability of community associations to ban members from installing solar on certain areas of their homes. These associations can still determine the specific configuration of said installation, so long as that decision does not lower the system’s annual estimated generation output by more than 10%. The law also expands its protections to include buildings up to 60 feet tall, doubling the former 30-foot parameter, though the law does not apply to condominiums or other buildings with shared roofs.

The law also significantly cuts down the amount of time that association members have to wait for a response once filing their application for approval of a system with their association. Associations now have 90 days to develop a policy on rooftop solar if a member proposes an installation and no such policy is yet in place, down from 120 days. The amount of time for associations to decide on approval has also been cut down to 75 days, where previously it was 90 days.

Those conditions have been lauded as meaningful, as long approval times often muddy project logistics and, generally, the longer a potential installation languishes waiting for approval, the less likely it is to be installed.

While this law, which takes effect immediately, will expand the state’s distributed solar potential, the real effect of that potential will likely remain unseen until the state passes an updated solar incentive program, as the state’s solar market has essentially been frozen since the last program ran out of funds earlier this year.

The commonly-held belief is that, sooner or later,  Gov. Pritzker’s Consumers and Climate First Act, will pass, bringing with it the phasing out of coal-fired power plants by 2030 and gas-fired power plants by 2045. Within these phase-out targets, the bill also includes plant-specific declining caps on emissions that would lead to plant closures and a carbon tax starting at $8/ton and escalating 3% each year. Under Pritzker’s bill, the Illinois Solar for All program would require companies that close coal mines or coal-fired power plants to provide detailed information on their workforce to help the state ease their transition to new work, and to provide two years’ notice of mass layoff or relocation plans.

Pritzker’s bill also proposes to lift the cap on how customers’ monthly bills can be charged to fund renewable energy development. It also includes some significant utility reform measures pertaining with accountability, transparency, and how rates are formulated.

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