Commercial Solar Array Is Not a Nuisance

Read the full decision: Myrick v. Peck Elec. Co

Vermont’s highest court rules that property owners could not claim that commercial solar panel array constituted a nuisance because the solar array did not interfere with the owners’ use of their property, even though the owners claimed that the aesthetics of the solar panels had damaged their property values.

A group of landowners (“Owners”) filed a lawsuit after a neighbor leased the property to a solar company that built a commercial solar panel array (“Panels”) on the property.  The Owners alleged that the Panels constituted a private nuisance because the Panels affected the neighborhood’s aesthetics and caused a loss in property values.  The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the state’s law bars nuisance actions based solely on aesthetic harm allegations.  The Owners appealed.

The Supreme Court of Vermont affirmed the trial court ruling.  Vermont defines a private nuisance as an “interference with use and enjoyment of another’s property that is both unreasonable and substantial.”  Court have found that an “unattractive sight” by itself does not constitute a private nuisance because this does not interfere with an owner’s use of their land and is subjective, unlike objective factors courts have found to constitute private nuisances such as noise, light, vibrations, and odors. The Owners argued that the court should expand the definition of private nuisance to cover conditions like the Panels, but the court declined to do so.

Next, the Owners argued that Panels had impacted their property values.  The Owners cited an earlier case that had found that a reduction in property values following a town’s drinking water contamination could sustain a nuisance complaint based on a public perception of widespread contamination.  But the court stated that the Owners only evidence for the alleged nuisance was the reduction in property values, not an objective condition like the water contamination.  Since there was no objective evidence of interference with the Owners’ use of the property by the Panels, the court rejected this argument as well.  Finding that claims for aesthetic harm alone could not support a private nuisance lawsuit, the court affirmed the trial court.

Myrick v. Peck Elec. Co., Nos. 2016–167 & 2016–16, 2017 WL 129041 (Vt. Jan. 13, 2017).  [This is a citation to a Westlaw document. Westlaw is a subscription, online legal research service. If an official reporter citation should become available for this case, the citation will be updated to reflect this information].