Planning Commission Tours Solar Installations
by Peter Shelton
Oct 06, 2011 | 551 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RIDGWAY – As part of its charge to re-examine the county’s visual impact regulations, the Ouray County Planning Commission is taking a look at the visual impacts of renewable energy structures, such as solar and wind-power installations.

To that end, the commission toured eight residential “systems” around the county last week, led by Leif Juell and Jill Markey of Alternative Power Enterprises, Inc., of Ridgway. The tour included, Markey said, several examples of successful blending, “which seems to be the preferred term of the commission.

“And, the group also visited “a bad example up in Divide Ranch.”

That project, involving photovoltaic and solar thermal ground-mount structures, “may have inspired the Board of County Commissioners to bring up the review,” Markey said.

Done right, Markey and Juell believe, solar panels on both roof mounts and ground mounts, can result in limited, or negligible, visual impact.

“The Planning Commission didn’t even notice the array behind the Conoco (in Ridgway),” Markey said. “And we toured with [Planning Commission Chair] Ken Lipton by a roof mount out County Road 10 (in the vicinity of the rejected Sun Edison solar farm), and he didn’t recognize a 10Kw system in his neighborhood.” The 800-900 square feet of PV panels adorn a barn roof northeast of Ridgway.

“There are a couple of roof-mount systems out CR 12 that look really good, too,” Markey said.

The visual impact of solar renewables was brought to the fore during the debate over Sun Edison’s plan to put 20 acres of PV panels at Angel Ridge Ranch last fall. Opponents of the plan, while claiming they favored solar power in principle, objected to the installation on largely visual grounds.

More recently, Commissioner Lynn Padgett brought up the subject of the permitting of wind-turbines for residential and scientific use. And she suggested the Planning Commission look into possible changes to county codes regarding renewables, with the intent of making the regulations and the permitting process clearer and more accommodating.

“We have not had any issues getting permits” for solar installations, Markey said. She also mentioned the county’s incentives for renewables. A homeowner paying $500 for a solar-installation building permit can receive up $350 of that money back. And the county waives its two percent sales tax on materials for renewable-energy structures, Markey said.

The Planning Commission will discuss the issue further at its next meeting Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Land Use offices in Ridgway. Commissioners will review Pitkin County’s code to see if any of its language might be appropriate here. The workshop is scheduled to begin about 6:45 p.m., following other business.
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