Pitkin County wrestles with rules on solar development | AspenTimes.com
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Pitkin County wrestles with rules on solar development

ASPEN – The Pitkin County Commissioners said Wednesday they will take their time crafting rules for development of solar electric and photovoltaic systems on homes and businesses because they want to get it right on issues like glare off solar panels onto neighboring properties.

The commissioners started review of 20 pages of rules for solar development but delayed their passage until the planning staff can answer a bevy of additional issues.

The sun bouncing off solar panels erected on the roof of a house is one of the most glaring issues. “We were kind of at a loss on how to deal with it,” said Lance Clarke, deputy director of community development.

The commissioners were sympathetic to the case of Sherri Spykerman, a homeowner in Little Elk Creek subdivision. She told the commissioners her neighbor placed solar panels on her sharply-angled roof in April 2007. Spykerman said her family stare into “a blinding glare across the entire front of our house” in April and September, when the sun is at a low angle.

Spykerman said she’s become a fan of gloomy weather in spring and fall. “It’s been a fabulous April for us,” she quipped.

The neighbors entered mediation in 2008 and emerged with a proposal to alter the angle of the solar panels. Spykerman said she and her husband offered to pay the $15,000 price. Their neighbor declined.

Spykerman and her husband have installed $19,000 worth of trees to alleviate the problem and they plan to plant more.

County planners told the commissioners they have no template from other governments on how to regulate glare. As proposed, glare would be considered a “nuisance” in the Pitkin County Land Use Code, right along with nuclear radiation and detonation, said Clarke and county planner Mike Kraemer. Complaints about glare would be investigated by the county code amendment officer.

A possible solution offered by Commissioner Michael Owsley is to require solar electric and photovoltaic system to be built so they can be adjusted. If there are complaints from neighbors, the angle of the panels could be changed, he said. Property owners that comply with an adjustable system could go through a simpler review process, Owsley proposed.

The county’s proposed ordinance doesn’t allow for large solar farms.

Other issues that the commissioners want addressed include:

• Dealing with subsidizing the review of solar systems. State law says homeowners can only be charged $500 for review of their solar systems and business owners can be charged up to $1,000. The county planning staff proposed a simple review for systems under 400 square feet, requiring less staff time and, therefore, money. Larger systems would go through a more stringent review.

The commissioners weren’t crazy about the idea. They were uncertain that projects 400 square feet and smaller should get less review, even if the county must absorb the costs. “We’ve always taken the position that development should pay its own way, whether it’s green development or [regular] development,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. Local government associations are lobbying the Legislature to change the amount local governments can charge for reviews, she said.

• Finding an acceptable height for pole-mounted solar systems. Sometimes solar electric or photovoltaic systems won’t work on a roof because of shading or some other issue. In those cases, property owners can install pole-mounted systems. The county rules propose allowing a height limit of 10 feet for the pole-mounted systems. Solar installers want it raised. The commissioners want to study the issue in more detail.

No timetable was set for crafting the final solar rules. The commissioners hope to schedule a trip to Spykerman’s house to study the glare issue.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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