Police recover stolen Carbondale solar panels in Aspen | VailDaily.com

Police recover stolen Carbondale solar panels in Aspen

Scott Condon
scondon@aspentimes.com
Aspen, CO Colorado
Town of CarbondaleThirty solar panels were plucked out of their frames atop the Carbondale Recreation Center last week. They were recovered Monday outside an Aspen residence.
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ASPEN, Colorado ” The 30 solar photovoltaic panels stolen from the Carbondale Recreation Center last week were recovered outside an Aspen residence Monday morning, police said.

The panels were loaded on a flat-bed truck that was parked outside a multi-family residence, according to Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling. The truck owner is a suspect in the theft, he said. Police were trying to obtain an arrest warrant Monday afternoon. Schilling said he was waiting for prosecutors to approve the warrant, then it would be submitted to a Garfield County judge to sign.

The suspect’s name wasn’t released Monday. Schilling labeled the suspect “a frequenter of the Aspen area” and said both the Aspen and Carbondale police departments have had prior contact with the individual. Schilling is confident there will be an arrest.

“The charge will be possession of stolen property,” he said.

There is no proof yet that the suspect stole the panels, but police are working to establish a case. There is no evidence that the suspect worked for a solar installation firm, Schilling said, but he had apparently attended an installation class offered by Carbondale-based Solar Energy International.

The theft occurred either late Sunday, May 24, or early on Memorial Day. The panels were taken from among 288 installed on the recreation center roof. The system offsets some of the facility’s energy consumption.

The crime was pulled off next door to the police station in Town Hall. Some people wondered how it could have gone unnoticed. Town officials explained that the portion of the roof where the panels were taken is hard to see and access. The theft was discovered the following Wednesday by a worker with the recreation department.

The break in the investigation came after much publicity about the heist in local media. A Carbondale resident contacted town authorities last weekend with a tip that she spotted a flat-bed truck parked outside of the recreation center the night of the theft. She was familiar with the truck and its owner.

Police in Carbondale pursued the lead and learned that Aspen police had a contact address for the suspect, who apparently is staying with a friend in Aspen. Aspen officers drove by the residence at about 2 a.m. Monday and spotted the flat-bed truck, Schilling said. They also spotted what appeared to be solar panels.

Police obtained a search warrant Monday morning and confiscated the panels at about 6 a.m. Serial numbers allegedly confirmed that the recovered panels were those taken from the recreation center.

The panels were returned to Carbondale, and pictures were taken of the serial numbers. If prosecutors agree, all but one panel will be reinstalled as soon as possible, Schilling said. One panel will be kept as evidence in the event of a trial.

Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker said it will cost an estimated $10,000 to reinstall the panels. The cost will be covered by the town’s insurance. Schilling said restitution also is possible if there is a conviction.

It is unknown if the suspect acted alone. “He has not admitted the theft,” Schilling said.

Solar photovoltaic panels are roughly 3 feet by 5 feet and can weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. The panels had to be transported down ladders and loaded onto a truck. It is unknown why 30 panels, and not more, were targeted. Maybe the sun was coming up and the thief or thieves felt they had to leave, Schilling said.

The person providing the tip about the truck has refused reward money up to this point, he said. A $1,000 reward was offered.

scondon@aspentimes.com