Tree cover affects The Woodlands’ solar energy growth as adoption lags
February 20, 2023
Originally posted on houstonchronicle.com.
At first glance, The Woodlands may seem to be an optimal location for residential solar panel installations – Texas is expected to lead utility scale solar energy growth again in 2023, interest in energy independence has increased after power grid failures, and more than 72 percent of residents in the area are homeowners.
But residents in The Woodlands may have a few more hoops to jump through than the average Houston-area homeowner to install solar panels on their home.
Development Standards Committee
Despite rumors that there are local solar vendors that will not quote homes in The Woodlands, The Developmental Standards Committee said it has not heard of any solar energy providers denying quotes.
Per Texas Property Code 202.010, a property owners’ association may not prohibit or restrict a property owner from installing a solar energy device. Because the committee is a governmental entity, not a homeowners’ association, the committee said the code does not apply to the township.
Freedom Solar Power, which is based in Texas and provides solar energy installations in 11 markets, installed 5,000 energy systems in 2022, CEO Bret Biggart said. The Houston metro makes up 20 percent of their market, but they’ve installed just a “handful” of residential panels in The Woodlands area, Biggart said.
The area hasn’t become a “hotbed” for solar, Biggart said, and there may be a more rigorous permitting process.
“I think there’s a few more steps to walk through, committee approval and those kinds of things…but I think the notion that The Woodlands doesn’t like solar or makes it very difficult, I have not seen that,” Biggart said. “They’ve got a committee that works to help with permitting and those kinds of things, and they’ve been very helpful in the times that we’ve had conversations with them.”
Any resident who wishes to install a solar energy system must apply online and submit all required plans. The Residential Design Review Committee, which serves as a sort of lower court to the standards committee for each village, will review applications and ask nearby neighbors for their input. If passed, final approval is then brought to the design committee at a final meeting on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
Per The Woodlands Residential Development Standards, solar panels must conform to the shape of the roof and cannot jut out above the roofline. Collector frames, support brackets and any exposed piping must be “designed to reduce the visual impact” and “painted to match or be compatible with the roofing material.”
Trevor Taylor moved his business, Construction Solutions of Texas, to Montgomery County from Cypress in September. Most of his solar installations take around two weeks; their lone Woodlands project has been in the works since November. Taylor said it’s not a township issue, but utility companies that have slowed the project. Utility providers like CenterPoint Energy have little economic incentive to permit solar applications, and with Houston permits more than doubling from 2019–2021, the provider says it’s experiencing delays.
“It’s more the permitting issues that they have,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s The Woodlands, it’s the CenterPoint people that are holding it up at this point…it’s been a hassle.”
Taylor said CenterPoint Energy is typically a more reliable solar provider but has been backed up since the holidays. Both Taylor and Biggart said that Entergy, which provides electricity for all of The Woodlands villages except for Creekside Park, can be less solar-friendly than some other utility providers.
“It does inherently require a lot of sign-off from lots of jurisdictions, so the faster we can kind of standardize the process in the state of Texas so that happens more quickly and (more) automated, the more adoption you’re going to see,” Biggart said. “I think as customers express that this is what they want, they’re going to have to change how they think about it.”
The most well-regarded aspect to The Woodlands’ way of life is also what could be hindering solar energy the most.
With dense tree cover surrounding most homes in The Woodlands, many houses may not receive enough sunlight to draw in a significant amount of solar energy. Woodlands residents must also go to the design committee if they wish to cut down any tree with a diameter larger than 6 inches.
The committee can reject any home improvement, including solar panels, for aesthetic reasons, which has caused grief with some homeowners. The committee typically won’t allow panels on the front of a house, so anyone with a shaded backyard may not have a spot to capture solar energy. Some solar energy installers like Tesla Solar will conduct a shade test to find the best areas for installation. Tesla’s solar roofs, which resemble an entire shingled roof instead of separate panels, are also gaining popularity in the area, the DSC said.
With a federal tax credit raised to 30 percent for systems installed from 2022–2032, Biggart said he’s confident that the area will soon boom like the rest of the state.
“There is this idea where when we install solar in the neighborhood, multiple homes in the neighborhood end up going solar. It’s kind of a strange phenomenon,” Biggart said. “Once it does get a little bit of traction, I would expect to see it work like all the other markets that we’ve seen in Texas,” Biggart said.
Contact Freedom Solar Today
The Woodlands and Houston area residents can contact Freedom Solar for a free estimate today. With over 15 years of experience across 5 states and 11 markets, we’re a turnkey solution providing top-rated SunPower solar panels, Tesla Powerwalls and other backup power solutions to ensure you get the most out of each sunny day.
Call us at (800) 504-2337 or complete our inquiry form to speak with an energy consultant.
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