Solar Panels and Tax Credits

By Melissa Archer, Preservation Officer

Summer is upon us, and with longer days and higher energy bills, many Marylanders are looking for ways to save money and conserve energy. With advancements in technology, government incentives and flexible leasing options, installation of photovoltaic systems are becoming more appealing and accessible. This summer the MHT blog will feature a series of posts exploring how historic preservation and green technology can work together. This first post will discuss how state historic tax credits can be used for solar energy projects.

The Sustainable Communities Tax Credit exists to promote the rehabilitation and reuse of commercial and residential historic structures across the state. What a lot of people don’t realize is that installation of mechanical systems, like HVAC, water heaters, etc. are eligible rehabilitation expenses that qualify for the 20% income tax credit. This includes systems that incorporate green technology, like geothermal and solar panels.

A parapet wall on a building's roof can conceal solar panels from the public right-of-way.

A parapet wall on a building’s roof can conceal solar panels from the public right-of-way.

This applies to both commercial and owner-occupied properties that are “certified” historic by MHT. To find out if your property qualifies, please check the program pages for details. In order for the expenditures to qualify for the credit, the system must be purchased rather than leased.

The work must also be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. This means that the system must be compatible with the historic building, it must be reversible, and it must not destroy or conceal character-defining historic features.

How do you know if your solar project would qualify for historic tax credits? To determine if your project is eligible, you must submit an application to be reviewed by MHT prior to starting work. In the meantime, though, here are a few examples of situations in which historic tax credits may be an option:

Flat roofs can be used for solar infrastructure.

Flat roofs can be used for solar infrastructure.

1) Flat roofed structures

Properties with large, flat or gently-sloped roofs are ideal candidates for solar panels. In this situation, panels should be set back from the ends of the building so they are not visible from the public right of way. Roofs with parapet walls can also provide an excellent opportunity to conceal panels. In order to ensure that units are not visible, it is always a good idea to do a mock-up on the roof prior to installation.

2) Structures with non-historic additions

Additions might be an appropriate location for solar panels.

Additions might be an appropriate location for solar panels.

If your building’s roof is a gable, gambrel, pyramid or other prominent roof type, it will be difficult to install solar panels in a way that will not diminish the historic integrity of the structure.  A non-historic addition, however, may be able to accommodate panels in a way that minimally impacts the historic structure.  Solar panels on additions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and factors to consider include the age of the addition, the roofing material, visual prominence, and surrounding landscape.

3) Properties with a lot of land

Solar array

A rural solar array.

In some cases a property owner may be able to avoid negatively impacting the historic structure by installing solar ground-mounted panels instead. This works best for properties with a lot of acreage where panels can be set back a considerable distance from the historic structure and roads.  Special considerations should be given to properties located on significant cultural landscapes like battlefields as well as areas with potential archeological resources.

Unfortunately, many historic buildings do not have the roof type, orientation, visibility conditions, etc., that will permit unobtrusive solar panel installation. In those situations, solar co-ops may be an appropriate solution. This arrangement would not qualify for historic tax credits, but in many cases it may be the best solution.

For more information about the tax credit, please visit our webpage at http://mht.maryland.gov/taxCredits.shtml.

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A Special Visit to Whitehall

A Special Visit to Whitehall

By Bernadette Pulley-Pruitt, Administrative Support, MHT Office of Preservation Planning and Museum Programs

Rideout Family cemetery at Whitehall

Ridout Family cemetery at Whitehall

Most people know Whitehall outside of Annapolis – if they know it at all – as a beautiful 18th century home and National Historic Landmark. For me, it has a special meaning and connection as the place where some of my ancestors were enslaved by the Ridout Family. When Michael Winn of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church organized a visit with Mr. Orlando Ridout IV and church members to the property’s cemeteries, I jumped at the chance to visit the graves of my family members .

Timothy Harris tombstone, Ridout Family cemetery

Timothy Harris tombstone, Ridout Family cemetery

Buried in the Ridout Family cemetery, my great-great-grandfather Timothy Harris was born into slavery in 1834 and died in 1905. After Emancipation, he continued to work for the Ridouts as a carriage driver and eventually purchased land near Whitehall. He and his wife Mary E. Bailey Harris donated a portion their land to build the now-demolished Skidmore School for African Americans. The epitaph on his tombstone reads “With the Upright Man, thou shalt show thyself upright.”

Amelia Martin tombstone, African American burial ground. Photo credit: Dalyn Huntley

Amelia Martin tombstone, African American burial ground. Photo credit: Dalyn Huntley

On the other side of the fence, adjacent to the Ridout Family cemetery, is an African American burial ground where many of Whitehall’s enslaved are interred. Only one permanent tombstone remains, belonging to Amelia Martin (1878-1899), the daughter of my great-great-grandmother Mary Calvert-Martin, who was also enslaved by the Ridouts. Over time, the name “Calvert” was changed to “Colbert”, and the “Col-Mar” and “Colbert” roads near the property refer to our family.

Portrait of Mary Calvert-Martin

Portrait of Mary Calvert-Martin

Today we do not know how many others are buried in the African American cemetery. Their markers, likely wooden, deteriorated over time or were removed by owners of the Whitehall property. I hope that one day we will be able to identify the graves of those buried there, perhaps with ground-penetrating radar, and erect a plaque in their honor, so that their lives will not be forgotten.

Of course, this is not a story unique to Whitehall, or to my family — these stories and these places exist all over Maryland. Many are threatened by time or neglect or ignorance of what is there. We must do what we can to save them and tell these stories, because we still have so much to learn about ourselves and our histories.

The author with Mr. Orlando

The author with Mr. Orlando “Lanny” Ridout IV