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August 11, 2011
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Pitkin County adopts new solar regulations

ASPEN - New regulations on solar panels in Pitkin County present a hurdle to use of a renewable energy source that should be promoted, according to one system installer, but a property owner who endures glare from a neighbor's installation praised the county's effort to address the technology's impacts.County commissioners voted 5-0 Wednesday to adopt new regulations on solar-energy collectors after several debates and a June road trip to look at various solar installations. The regulations have been under review by the Planning and Zoning Commission and then commissioners for nearly a year.Commissioners tweaked the rules yet again Wednesday before giving them final approval, requiring a nonreflective, matte finish for mounting systems that hold the panels and setting 16 feet as the maximum height for ground-mounted panels, with special review by the Community Development Department staff. Ground panels, formerly limited to 10 feet, can be up to 12 feet high without special review under the amended code.Any installation of 200 square feet or more that isn't mounted so that its tilt can be adjusted will trigger the need to notify neighbors of the planned installation, commissioners agreed. Solar installations of 400 square feet or more require the notification whether they're adjustable or not.A representative of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency told commissioners that virtually all installations in the county are larger than 200 square feet, urging them to stick with the 400-square-foot notification threshold for all installations. The stricter requirement seems to conflict with the county's interest in encouraging solar panels on new homes through it's Renewable Energy Resource Mitigation Program, she suggested.Aspen architect and solar installer Jason Lasser spoke out against regulating glare and restrictions such as the non-reflective mounting hardware. The measures will increase the cost of the installations for property owners and limit choices in systems, he said after the meeting."At a certain point, you have to say you're going to lead on this one (solar energy)," Lasser said. Instead of leading the community into solar energy, commissioners "tip-toed through neighborhoods," he said after the discussion concluded.The regulations establish height limits for panels on the ground, pitched roofs and flat roofs, and establish rules for solar farms.Glare, defined as a nuisance in the county code, is addressed this way: "The glare effect produced by light reflecting from an object shall not create an unreasonable adverse impact with regard to intensity and duration. If glare creates an unreasonable off-site impact, vegetative screening, repositioning of that object or other effective means of reducing glare may be required to mitigate that impact. The property owner is responsible for mitigation of glare.""We absolutely realize it's subjective. It's definitely subjective," said county planner Mike Kraemer of the language.With notice to neighbors, the hope is that potential glare issues can be addressed before panels are installed, said Lance Clarke, deputy director of Community Development. If neighbor complaints in response to a notice can't be resolved, they will go first to the P&Z, and then commissioners."You're going to have glare - it's a glass surface," Lasser said, predicting a neighbor with a beef about any issue would try to toss a wrench into a proposed solar project.But Old Snowmass resident Rick Heede praised commissioners for acknowledging that solar energy, like other energy sources, has impacts.Little Elk Creek resident Sherri Spykerman said after Wednesday's action that she's pleased with the new regulations, though they won't help her situation. Spykerman and her husband found themselves with little recourse when a neighbor's roof-mounted panel produced blinding glare directed at their home. They urged commissioners to put the onus on the property owner who installs the panels to fix the problem."I think mostly the idea is to give the installer a heads-up when there's a problem. It shouldn't be so difficult to correct," she said.Permits issued for solar installations should make it clear the property owner is responsible for resulting glare, Commissioner Rachel Richards stressed."I do think we have the tricky task of balancing competing goals," Richards said, noting the county wants to encourage the use of renewable energy. "As much as we're talking about glare, and minimizing glare, there still will be glare." janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Aug 11, 2011 07:35AM Published Aug 11, 2011 01:01AM Copyright 2011 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.