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Pitkin County holds line on solar panel height

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The height limit for free-standing solar panels in Pitkin County will remain at 10 feet, for now.

County commissioners were split Wednesday on upping the limit to 16 feet – a move that solar installers say is necessary to better accommodate the panels as snow piles up on the ground. A higher height limit would allow higher placement of the panels, leaving more room for snow beneath them. Free-standing panels are mounted on the ground, and held up with a pole or poles.

“This is environmental Pitkin County,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said after a zoning code amendment that would have raised the height limit was defeated with a 2-2 tie vote. Commissioner Michael Owsley also voted to tweak the code, but commissioners George Newman and Jack Hatfield opposed it; Rachel Richards was absent.

Pitkin County staffers are working on a broader package of amendments related to the installation of solar panels; Newman and Hatfield called for addressing the height issue in conjunction with those proposals.

“I think we should look at all of this comprehensively,” Hatfield said.

County voters recently approved the formation of an Energy Smart Loan Program, and Clapper pressed for approval of the higher height limit to facilitate projects that may come forward under that program, even though loans to property owners won’t be available until spring.

“I really don’t want this to delay people doing the right thing,” Clapper said.

The Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus, however, urged commissioners to hold off on the code amendment. In a letter, the caucus said it is grappling with the competing goals of encouraging renewable energy and preserving the rural character of the neighborhood. The height issue should be addressed as part of a broader set of regulations, the caucus said.

The visual impact of solar installations has become an issue, noted Hatfield and Newman.

“We can’t just give it carte blanche even though the goal is commendable,” Newman said. “There has to be a balance with the impacts on the neighbors and the neighborhood.”

Though the 10-foot limit on free-standing panels will stand for now, property owners can seek a higher height through a Board of Adjustment review. That process involves a public hearing and the notification of neighbors within 300 feet of the proposed installation.

janet@aspentimes.com


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