California Solar Rights Act

The 1978 California Solar Rights Act and Historic Resources

The 1978 California Solar Rights Act is a collection of regulations that together encourage the use of solar energy systems and reduce the barriers to install such systems, including design review for aesthetic purposes. Links to all regulations part of the Solar Rights Act can be found at the bottom of this page.

A frequent concern expressed to OHP is the impact that installation of solar energy equipment may have on historic resources.

Existing and historic building use and reuse saves energy and reduces the carbon footprint as explored on OHP’s Sustainability web page. While jurisdictions may be concerned about the impact of a solar energy system on a historic resource, it is certainly possible to install systems on a historic building while minimizing the impact to that resource.

The NPS provides guidance for retaining all aspects of historic buildings’ inherent energy conservation, and appropriate energy retrofits that comply with the ten Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation:

Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability:

Preservation Brief 3: Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings:

NPS guidance recommends that adding solar energy systems to historic buildings should be done in a manner that:

  • Minimizes the impact on historic roofing materials and
  • Preserves the character of the property by placement of panels in locations with minimum or no visibility, such as on a flat roof at a low angle, or on secondary roof slopes.

OHP suggests that owners of historic buildings applying for solar energy system installations work with permit officials and Preservation Commissions to provide guidance and installation details that conserve historic roofing materials and character-defining features of the roof and property.  Systems should be installed in such a way that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property is unimpaired. OHP always recommends following the ten Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation for all proposed work to historic buildings.

The Energy Policy Initiatives Center provides a thoughtful analysis of the Solar Rights Act with their “Analysis of six key provisions of the California Solar Rights Act”. It includes a discussion of Local Government ability to restrict solar installations.

For further information, comments, or questions please contact Mark Huck at the Office of Historic Preservation, at (916) 445-7011.

Solar Rights Act Regulations

California Civil Codes Sections 714 and 714.1: Limits covenants, conditions, and restrictions to restrict solar installations and requires timely review.

California Civil Code Section 801: Establishes the legal right to a solar easement.

California Civil Code Section 801.5: Defines which solar energy systems are covered by its provisions.

California Government Code section 65850.5: Limits local government restrictions on solar installations and discourages local governments from adopting ordinances that would unreasonably restrict the use of solar energy systems. It also requires local governments to use a ministerial or administrative application review instead of a discretionary process.

CA Health and Safety Code 17959.1: Provides for the city or county to administratively issue permit, unless the solar installation would have a specific adverse impact upon public health or safety; establishes the health and safety standards a solar energy system is required to meet.
CA Government Code 66473.1:  Subdivision design to provide for future passive or natural heating or cooling opportunities.
CA Government Code 66475.3: Local government may require easements to ensure subdivision parcels receive sunlight.

Green AND Historic

Historic buildings can be retrofitted to provide energy conservation measures, including solar panels. Guidelines are available that demonstrate appropriate ways to install many energy efficient upgrades. Click on the titles to download the PDF.

 Implementing Solar PV Projects on Historic Buildings and in Historic Districts

Implementing Solar PV Projects on Historic BuildingsThis National Renewable Energy Laboratory publication focuses on the implementation of PV systems on historic properties. Many private property owners, as well as local, state, and national government entities, are seeking guidance on how best to integrate solar PV installations on historic buildings. Historic preservationists maintain that preserving, reusing, and maintaining historic structures is a key sustainable design strategy while also recognizing the importance of accommodating renewable energy technologies where they are appropriate.




Preservation Brief 3: Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings

Preservation Brief 3This Preservation Brief produced by the National Park Service provides guidance on making historic buildings more energy efficient.






National Park Service Sustainability Guidelines

NPS Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Historic RehabilitationThese Guideline from the National Park Service provide illustrated examples of the proper and improper way to sustainably retrofit a historic building.





Solar Panel Installation in Santa Cruz: A Case Study

The City of Santa Cruz is allowing solar panels on historic buildings with review by the Commission and attempts to have the panels located out of general public view. The Commission has required black panels and frames and installation of a black metal strip along the rake edge to mask the distance between the panels and the roof.  In this case study, the Commission required a skylight to be covered with a "fake solar panel" so the panel array would not have a "missing tooth" look.