Homeowners flip the switch on contested solar panel array

Upper Haight homeowners began powering their building Monday with a powerful rooftop solar panel array, after an appeal filed against installation of the panels was rejected.

Douglas and Karen Kitt were ready to begin powering their Page Street building using the $90,000 panel array when neighbors filed an appeal with the San Francisco Board of Appeals against needed electrical permits.

Neighbors Maureen Gannon and Rohit Verma argued in their appeal that the panels, which impact the view from their nearby home, detracted from the character of the Upper Haight neighborhood, reduced the value of adjacent homes and created safety hazards in strong winds or earthquakes.

“The solar panels,” Gannon and Verma wrote, “are egregiously not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and are now embarrassingly visible landmarks to pedestrians.”

Gannon and Verma asked The City to order the Kitts to reduce the tilt of the panels to reduce their visibility, but the Kitts, who share their home with two renting households, said that would reduce the effectiveness of the panels and add costs.

The five-member Board of Appeals unanimously dismissed the appeal on Nov. 5, with board members saying that they rejected the appellants’ arguments.

Board members said state law provided them with little discretion to uphold the appeal and that the environmental benefits of solar power outweigh aesthetic concerns.

Board Member Michael Garcia said TV antennas and overhead power lines are more unsightly in the Upper Haight neighborhood from street level than solar panels.

“It’s unfortunate that what you see are a lot of power lines,” Garcia said during the hearing. “Were these solar panels to proliferate, one would hope that we would see a lot fewer power lines.”

On Monday morning, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. electricians visited the Kitts’ home and connected the panels to the grid.

The couple plans to host a champagne toast in December to thank neighbors who supported them by sending letters to the Board of Appeals and providing testimony during the hearing.

“We were able to send 13 or 14 letters from our neighbors to the Board in support of our solar project,” Douglas Kitt said Monday. “We have a lot of neighbors that are very excited about solar and are hoping to install their own panels.”

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