Judge rules that Clarkson Valley couple can install solar panels
By: Carol Enright
The sun finally appears to be shining on Jim and Frances Babb. Since last November, the couple has been trying to get approval from the city of Clarkson Valley to install solar panels on their home.
Ameren Missouri approved the Babbs’ plans for a solar system twice, first in November and then again in February. But the Clarkson Valley Board of Aldermen unanimously rejected the Babbs’ application for a special use permit in March, ostensibly due to concerns about the aesthetics of the panels. In April, the Babbs took their case to court, suing the city of Clarkson Valley and the Missouri Public Service Commission for the city’s refusal to issue a special use permit to install their solar installation.
On June 29, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled that the city was in the wrong and ordered it to issue building and special use permits to the Babbs immediately. The judge specified that if the city did not issue the permits within one business day of the judgment and order, the Babbs had the legal authority to begin installing their solar panels “as if such permits were issued.”
Specifically, the judge ruled that the city had “no reasonable basis to deny the Babbs’ application for a special use permit, and the city’s denial was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and an abuse of discretion.” He went on to write that the “city’s refusal, without any legal justification, to issue permits is preventing the Babbs from using the solar energy at their property and from participating in the solar rebate program.”
According the Babbs’ attorney, Stephen Jeffery, time was of the essence in the ruling. The couple entered into a contract with Ameren on February 7, which gave them a six-month window to get their system up and running. If they had not been able install their system by August 7, they would have lost a portion of the solar rebates that Ameren issues to residential customers who install photovoltaic systems.
Jeffery said that Clarkson Valley, essentially, lost the suit when it first refused to issue the Babbs a building permit in November.
“That permit application was fully compliant with all city requirements, all county requirements, all state requirements,” Jeffery said.
Jeffery said the city failed to perform its ministerial duty, and the judge agreed.
“To get a building permit, there’s a checklist – and as long as you check off all the items, you’re entitled to your building permit. I think that’s the conclusion that the judge reached,” Jeffery said.
Instead of approving the permit, Jeffery said the city put a moratorium on all solar projects. During that time, it enacted two new city ordinances regarding residential solar panels that, he called, “a new hurdle that someone had to jump over.”
When the Board of Aldermen denied the Babbs’ application for a special use permit in March, Jeffery said, “they didn’t give any reason or explanation at the time why they did that. That’s the reason why the Babbs brought the lawsuit.”
Jeffery acknowledged that, unlike a case decided by the Missouri Supreme Court, the judge’s ruling does not necessarily set a statewide precedent. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility that the judgment could have broader legal implications regarding how other municipalities regulate residential solar systems.
“I think the legal reasoning is 100 percent sound,” Jeffery said.