Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission Adopts New Policy Guidance on the Installation of Roof-Mounted Solar Panels

March 24, 2020

New guidelines advise general approval of solar panels on historic buildings to mitigate climate crisis

Silver SpringThe Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), adopted new guidelines for the installation of solar panels on historic buildings and buildings in historic districts at their February 26 meeting.

The Historic Preservation Commission, as a body established by the County Executive, is committed to acting to achieve the goals of the Emergency Climate Mobilization resolution (Resolution No.: 18-974) adopted by the Montgomery County Council on December 5, 2017. This resolution set a countywide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2035 and called for large-scale emergency action to achieve this target.

The new policy supports the county’s climate action priorities by enabling widespread adoption of renewable energy technology while ensuring the protection of the county’s historic resources.

This action will provide enhanced clarity for owners of historic properties when applying for Historic Area Work Permits for solar panel installations and broaden the circumstances in which solar panels can be installed.

“I’m proud of the Historic Preservation Commission’s work to meet countywide climate goals,” said Rebeccah Ballo, Montgomery County Planning Department Historic Preservation Supervisor. “The HP Office and staff are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for Montgomery County, and by making it easier to install solar panels on historic buildings, the county’s historic neighborhoods will be part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

Previously, the Commission interpreted Chapter 24A of the Montgomery County Code as limiting the installation of solar panels at sites or resources within districts designated in the Master Plan for Historic Preservation primarily to rear elevations, accessory structures, or as ground-mounted units.

In order to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions through solar panel adoption, the Historic Preservation Commission will now approve the installation of solar panels and solar shingles/tiles on all roof elevations of historic sites or historic resources within historic districts, provided that:

1. Preferred locations on rear elevations, building additions, accessory structures, or ground-mounted arrays are infeasible due to resource orientation or site limitations; and

2. The roof is not architecturally significant, or a slate or tile roof, unless it can be shown that installation of the solar array will not damage historic character or historic building materials; and

3. A Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) is required.

To support implementation of this policy, Historic Preservation Office staff will work closely with the Historic Preservation Commission to develop visual design guidelines that clearly explain these criteria to owners of historic properties in order to create more predictable outcomes for permit applicants.

By clarifying the policy for solar panel installation, Historic Preservation Commissioners hope to encourage additional property owners to submit solar panel permit applications and take action to restore a safe and healthy climate.

View the Historic Preservation Commission Policy.