Solar politics |

Solar politics

Scott Condon
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Talk about a hot topic.The politics of earning approval for solar panels on homes and businesses has sparked some alternate visions from people in the alternative energy community.Everyone agrees that demand for solar power devices is soaring in the Roaring Fork Valley and – unfortunately – that pockets of resistance still exist in some subdivisions. Homeowners associations occasionally oppose solar power devices, based on aesthetics.The best response to that opposition is a topic of debate within the robust alternative energy community in Carbondale.Anson Fogel is a firm believer in showing people the light. Fogel, the owner and CEO of Carbondale-based Inpower, wants to win opponents over rather than fight them. He believes the alternative energy cause and the fight against global warming will benefit more from a conciliatory stance rather than confrontation.

“Even with the most difficult of homeowners associations, we can get things done,” he said.Colorado law is on the side of people who install solar devices. Homeowners associations cannot reject them, and they cannot require alterations that add significantly to the cost of a proposed systems.But Paul Puhr, co-owner of Grounded Renewable Energy, a Carbondale firm that installs solar devices, said homeowners associations often hassle members into altering or even abandoning their plans. Most people don’t want to fight with their neighbors or future neighbors, he said, so they back down from confrontations over the aesthetics of solar devices.Puhr and others in the industry want alternative energy supporters to fight for their rights in so-called solar showdowns, as he explained in an article in the July 9 edition of The Aspen Times.Fogel fears that approach will have “catastrophic” consequences. He said he received calls from three clients who said they don’t want solar showdowns after the article appeared. Inpower designs solar photovoltaic and thermal systems, often for high-end homes in the valley. The implication that people need to fight to install a solar device will scare them away – and set back efforts to reduce carbon production, Fogel said.

Instead, he approaches opposition as a simple, unemotional exercise in problem solving. He presents homeowners associations with renderings and graphics designed in the Photoshop software program to show them exactly what they will get. He reminds associations that they cannot reject solar devices, but asks how to make it work for everyone. He said he almost always makes concessions on behalf of his clients.Fogel made concessions to earn approval for his own solar device in Stirling Ranch subdivision in Missouri Heights. He installed 24 solar panels, also known as modules, on poles in a system that tracks the movement of the sun from east to west. He tried to situate the system to minimize interference with neighbors’ views. The he talked to his closest neighbors, earned their support and approached the design review board of his homeowners association. He erected story poles to represent the size and height of the system.He concurred with the association that it would be best to move his system downhill. The association also specified the color he could use and requested that he plant trees to shield it.He installed a system with retail value of about $100,000. He estimated that it cost between $15,000 and $20,000 to earn the homeowners association’s approval.Compromise often comes at a price, Fogel acknowledged. He feels it is worth it.

“If I thought that fighting was going to do more to produce results, I would fight,” Fogel said.Gary Goodson of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, a nonprofit promoting energy efficiency, said the valley, indeed the world, needs to get beyond debates over aesthetics of solar panels. The planet, he said, doesn’t have time for such fights. The battle against global warming requires a worldwide effort. Solar panels should be regarded as a “badge of courage” for the future.”If we do [get bogged down], I’m concerned that we as a species won’t make it,” Goodson said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is