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

3 thoughts on “Solar Panels and Tax Credits

  1. Hello. We live in the Hammond Wood Historic District, a 1951 neighborhood of 58 houses designed by Charles Goodman, who was an innovator. The houses were sited with passive solar and privacy in mind. The original ad for the development featured ‘live in a solar community.’ Today’s mature tree cover is extensive. Ours is one of the few lots that gets sufficient sun to make solar possible. Our house’s south-facing front roof plane is parallel with the street. The only feasible location for a freestanding array is our front yard — also visible from the street. The rest of the lot is in shade. In 2012 we chose to install panels on our south-facing roof and did so with great attention to appearance. Our reasoning was “what would Charles Goodman do were he alive today?” He would have embraced active solar and put the array exactly where we did. Noted architect James Ritter, FAIA, who knew Goodman, confirmed this logic in a recent conversation. Our neighbors, all of whom have chosen to live in Hammond Wood because of its design and character, love how it has turned out. We looked into the state tax credit for our $37,000 investment in solar, but quickly saw our application would be dismissed. As one whose 40-yr career has been in historic preservation and community development, I have long been an advocate for revisiting the Secretary of Interior’s Standards in light of modern times. There are numerous circumstances where they actually hamper rather than guide preservation.

  2. I always worry about the electricity bills during the summer but a very good option that I have found recently through my friends in order to save some money is using the solar panels at home. In fact this has allowed me to get the benefits of Sustainable Communities Tax Credit that promotes the usage of systems to incorporate green technology. As this benefit is applicable for commercial properties too I find it very advantageous for my business.

  3. Pingback: WANTED: Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program Staff | Our History, Our Heritage

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