Shadows on the Cathedral: Solar Access Laws in a Different Light

Unprecedented growth in rooftop solar energy development is drawing increased attention to the issue of solar access. To operate ef-fectively, solar panels require unshaded access to the sun’s rays during peak sunlight hours. Some landowners are reluctant to invest in rooftop solar panels because they fear that a neighbor will erect a structure or grow a tree on nearby property that shades their panels. Existing statu-tory approaches to protecting solar access for such land-owners vary widely across jurisdictions, and some approaches ignore the airspace rights of neighbors. Which rule regime for solar access protection best promotes the efficient allocation of scarce airspace, within the con-straints of existing law? This Article applies Calabresi and Melamed’s “Cathedral” framework of property rules and liability rules to compare and analyze existing solar access laws and to eval-uate a model solar ac-cess statute recently drafted under funding from the United States De-partment of Energy. Surprisingly, the Article concludes that a statute implementing the Cathedral model’s seldom-used “Rule Four” is best suited for addressing solar access conflicts.

The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.