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Solar Easements and Rights Laws

Eligibility 
Agricultural
Commercial
Construction
Fed. Government
Industrial
Local Government
Nonprofit
Residential
State Government
Savings Category 
Photovoltaics
Solar Water Heat
Program Info
State 
Maryland
Program Type 
Solar/Wind Access Policy
Provider 
Maryland Energy Administration

Maryland has a long-standing law protecting the rights of solar energy system owners. The original law prohibited restrictive land use covenants that imposed unreasonable limitations on the installation of solar collection panels on the roof or exterior walls of improvements and which became effective after July 1, 1980. (The grandfathering date was removed in 2008). This statute and its 2008 amendments do not apply to a restrictive covenant on historic property that is listed by the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties or by the Maryland Register of Historic Properties.* Maryland also provides for the creation of easement agreements for a variety of purposes, including the "preservation of exposure of solar energy devices." While similar provisions exist as standalone laws in some states, in Maryland they are included under the more general heading of conservation easements.

The Maryland Real Property Code was amended in April 2008 by H.B. 117 to provide much more detailed protections for solar energy systems and to expand upon the required content of solar easement agreements. Under the new law (effective October 1, 2008) restrictions on use that act to significantly increase the cost of a solar collector system or significantly decrease its efficiency are prohibited. The definition of "restrictions on use" includes any covenant, restriction, or condition contained in a deed; declaration; contract; bylaws of a homeowners or condominium association; security instrument; and any other instrument affecting the transfer or sale of real property or interest in real property. The only condition for this protection is that the owner own or have rights for the exclusive use of the roof or exterior walls of a structure.

In addition to the added detail, other notable changes to the law are: (1) the removal of the July 1, 1980 grandfathering date for existing restrictive covenants; and (2) the replacement of the term "solar collection panels" with "solar collector systems". Solar collection systems are defined to include solar devices primarily used to collect, store, and distribute solar energy for electricity generation, space heating, space cooling, and water heating. This definition appears to include technologies such as passive solar space heating and solar pool heating.

Under H.B. 117, the right of property owners to enter into solar easement agreements is affirmed. Written instruments for this purpose are required to contain a description of the dimensions of the easement (e.g., vertical and horizontal angles), restrictions on potential impairments (e.g., vegetation, structures, etc.), and terms for revision or termination.

''* While this law does not apply to historic properties, at least one local jurisdiction -- the Howard County Historic District Commission -- has developed [http://www.howardcountymd.gov/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6442454109 guidelines] for solar installations in historic districts.''