Solar array causes conflict with neighbors

Douglas Kitt and his wife spent four years saving nearly $90,000 and planning to install solar panels on their house in the Upper Haight, but a neighbor is halting their dream of a green-powered home.

After installation of the panels for the three-unit building, and before they were able to hook up wiring that would flow electricity back into the power grid, nearby homeowners filed an appeal with The City against the plans. The neighbors are arguing that the panels are dangerous and could harm the character of and property values in the neighborhood.

Solar panels are on the verge of becoming a common sight in San Francisco, with a bevy of local, state and federal incentives available for installing them. In early 2008, fewer than 700 panels graced San Francisco rooftops, but the programs have helped to nearly double that number to more than 1,300 today.

Applications to install solar panels on 1,084 properties have been filed since The City began a multimillion-dollar subsidy program, including 76 in the Upper Haight and nearby Cole Valley neighborhoods, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission figures show.

The project at the Kitts’ home on Page Street near Baker Street, however, is being opposed by Maureen Gannon and Rohit Verma, owners of a nearby home.

“The solar panels erected … are egregiously not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and are now embarrassingly visible landmarks to pedestrians,” Gannon and Verma wrote in the appeal. “This significantly detracts from the character of the neighborhood.”

Gannon and Verma have urged the Board of Appeals — which rules on filings against permits or licenses issued, revoked or suspended by The City — to order the panels to face more directly upward. The couple says that change would protect passers-by from falling panels in strong winds or during an earthquake.

Tilting the panels would also improve the view for the objecting pair. Verma told The Examiner that view impacts from the panels are important, but the issues outlined in the appeal are equally or more important.

California’s building code generally prevents cities from rejecting solar panel installation applications unless the panels create health and safety concerns.

Gannon and Verma also asked the Board of Appeals to consider longer-term implications to San Francisco of similar panel installations, arguing that they lower the value of surrounding properties.

The Kitts, who paid $87,594 up front for the installation, have been ordered to not electrically connect the panels before an appeal hearing, which is scheduled for Nov. 4.

“We have this great solar system and we can’t even use it,” Douglas Kitt said. “We were ready to flip the switch.”

Green incentives

People who go solar in The City can benefit from subsidies.

16 months Time since solar panel subsidy program, GoSolarSF, was launched
$1,000 Maximum residential GoSolarSF subsidy
$500 Possible future maximum
$2,500 Additional subsidies available if certain installers are used
$7,000 Maximum subsidy for some low-income residents
1,084 Applications filed for GoSolarSF subsidies
$8.5 million Subsidies requested
$7.4 million Subsidies approved
$9.5 million Funds available

Source: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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