Homeowners win solar panel lawsuit
July 06, 2012
ST. LOUIS - The Cole County Circuit Court entered judgment recently in favor of James and Frances Babb and the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association (MOSEIA) in a lawsuit filed against the city of Clarkson Valley, Missouri concerning the city’s attempt to impose local regulations on the installation of residential solar panels.

Judge Daniel Green ruled that state law confers a legally protectable right to the Babbs to use solar energy at their property and because state regulations adopted by the Missouri Public Service Commission impose state-wide standards on the Babbs’ proposed residential solar system, Clarkson Valley cannot impose local ordinances which are more restrictive or which serve to prohibit the Babbs’ residential solar system.

The Babbs first submitted an application for a building permit for their system to Clarkson Valley on November 1, 2011. Instead of acting on the application, the city’s board of aldermen imposed a “moratorium” and then later enacted two ordinances imposing additional requirements on residential solar systems and requiring applicants to obtain a special use permit. After the Babbs’ submitted an application for a special use permit, which was approved by the city’s planning & zoning commission, the Clarkson Valley Board of Aldermen then denied the application on March 6, 2012, by a 6-0 vote without any explanation.

“We are very pleased with the ruling,” James Babb said. “We hope to have our system up and running soon.”

“The basis of the court’s decision is the legal doctrine of preemption,” said Steve Jeffery, an attorney in Clayton, who represents the Babbs. “Because Clarkson Valley was imposing additional and more restrictive requirements, over and above the PSC requirements, and because the Board of Aldermen denied the special use permit, the city was in effect prohibiting an activity that the PSC rules allow.”

The court found that the challenged ordinances “impose requirements that are more restrictive than, inconsistent with, and in conflict with” the PSC’s rules. In addition, the court found the ordinance requiring a special use permit “creates an unlawful condition precedent that is inconsistent and in conflict with” the PSC rules. The court’s order further states the city’s March 6, 2012 decision denying the Babbs’ application for a special use permit was “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and an abuse of discretion.”

“In November 2008, 67% of Missouri voters approved Proposition C, the renewable energy standard,” said Dane Glueck, MOSEIA’s President. “With this ruling, we hope that local governments will recognize the strengths and benefits of residential solar systems, and MOSEIA looks forward to working with local officials to address any local concerns.”

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