Clashes over solar power generation / Homeowners seek compensation over tall buildings blocking access to sunlight

Renewable energy sources have gained increased attention as a result of global warming and the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but some homeowners with solar panels are complaining that surrounding tall buildings are cutting into their power generation.

One homeowner has even brought a lawsuit against a construction company over the issue.

In May, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced a goal of installing solar panels at 10 million homes, but experts stressed the need to first create a system to protect solar panel owners so they can use the devices without anxiety.

“I never thought this would happen. I was so disappointed when I found out my power generation [from solar panels on my home] would go down,” a 61-year-old homemaker in Setagawa Ward, Tokyo, said recently.

The woman learned in October about plans to construct a condominium building to the east of her home. When the building is finished, her house will be shaded from dawn to before noon, but the building plan does not violate the Building Standards Law.

The woman installed solar panels at her home 15 years ago. She saved about 5,000 yen on her monthly electricity bill during last year’s hot summer thanks to the equipment.

She never expected the low building of shops near her home to be replaced with a tall structure. She negotiated with the condominium builder, but ultimately received much less compensation than she had sought.

“I wanted to use eco-friendly renewable energy. This isn’t a problem that can be settled just with money,” the woman said.

Likewise, a 41-year-old office worker in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, installed solar panels at his home three years ago but was hindered by plans to construct a new apartment building near his house.

The apartment builder resisted paying what the man sought in compensation, leading him to file a provisional disposition with the Tokyo District Court to bar construction. The man and the company reached a settlement in September 2009.

The man bought solar panels for about 3 million yen in April 2008, but a house on the southeast side of his home was later replaced by a four-story apartment building. The man’s house fell in the shadow of the apartment building, cutting his solar power generation to about 70 percent of its previous level.

The man agreed not to disclose the details of the settlement, but he was not satisfied with it.

“The company and the court didn’t understand the damage I suffered [due to construction of the building]. Considering the effect it would have on my job, I didn’t have the strength to continue the court battle. I had to give up.”

There is a legal right to sunshine, but damages are awarded only when deprivation exceeds what a person could reasonably endure.

“Benefits from solar power production are not clearly defined under the law, said lawyer Yuki Umetsu, who represented the man in court.

Amid power supply worries brought on by the nuclear crisis, Kan announced a government target of generating 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources in the early 2020s.

PV Owner Network Japan, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization that provides advice for owners of solar panels, has received more than 10 complaints of disruptions to solar power generation. They included a shadow more than 100 meters tall from a high building and trees that grew to block sunshine.

“Owners don’t know whom to consult,” said Ken Tsuzuki, secretary general of the organization. “I think there are more problems that haven’t come to the surface. There will just be more trouble if rules aren’t created.”


Solar panels increasing

According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the number of solar panels at private homes has been increasing since the government introduced a subsidy system in the late 1990s.

The number had reached about 73,000 as of fiscal 2005.

Growth stagnated for a while when the system ended, but in November 2009, the government introduced a system in which electric power companies were required to buy excess electricity generated from solar power by households. The number of solar panels had risen to a peak of about 122,000 as of fiscal 2009.

It is estimated to have risen to about 137,000 in the period from April to December 2010.

Local municipalities have supported the installation of solar panels for home use. The Tokyo metropolitan government revived its subsidy system this month after suspending it in late March.

The Kanagawa prefectural government is considering providing solar panels for free for residents of the prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

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