Energy & Environment

Solar Power Shedding ‘Ugly’ Image in Houston

Some housing developments are banning the solar panels, others love them.

solar panel on house left side
Home in Houston with solar panels 

Global demand for solar panels could soon create shortages according to Bloomberg News.

solar panel on house close up

In Texas, costs for solar are dropping and the amount of power Texans now get from the sun is up over 30-percent in the past year. But while some housing developments are banning the roof-top solar panels, saying they’re unsightly, some homeowners in one Houston neighborhood can’t imagine life without solar power.

It’s the hottest part of the day in a subdivision on Houston’s northwest side. The neatly-kept streets and lawns border several rows of recently-built, two-story homes made of brick and stone. They all look similar but a few of them have one difference: solar panels.

“They don’t even notice them till we tell (visitors) we have solar panels, they’re like where,” said Velia Uballe, a stay-at-home mom.

They bought their new, solar-panel equipped house three years ago.  But while Uballe said the panels hardly stand out, what they’re saving on electricity definitely does.

“We’ve never had a bill for the first year over a hundred. It wasn’t until last year, last year was the first year. And it was when we we’re getting triple digits,” Uballe told News 88.7.

Jennifer Ronk
Jennifer Ronk with the Houston Advanced Research Center

More homeowners are finding solar affordable.

“There’s some research that just came out showing Texas has some of the cheapest cost for installed solar in the entire country,” said Jennifer Ronk at the Houston Advanced Research Center in The Woodlands. She says it now costs about $15,000 or less for an average house.

But not everyone can have them installed. Some years ago, homeowner’s associations were banning the roof-top panels saying they were ugly. But Texas lawmakers wanted to encourage solar and in 2011 a law took effect that substantially restricts those bans.

There is a loophole though that allows developers of new subdivisions to ban solar panels until the development is completed. That’s been an issue in North Texas where a developer in Plano recently made the news for refusing to let a homeowner install solar. In the Houston area, Ronk says that’s not been a major problem.

“With some time and some education and working with the developers it hasn’t really gotten in the way of any of the installations,” Ronk said.

What sometimes does get in the way is Mother Nature. For example, Ronk’s own home.

“Yes it’s quite ridiculous that I talk about solar all the time I’m very much an advocate and I happen to have a house where my roof is at the wrong angle and there’s too much shading and I can’t reasonably put it on my own house,” Ronk said.



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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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