Silverthorne renews solar panel agreement amid complaints of glare
May 11, 2017
The Silverthorne Town Council unanimously voted to renew an agreement Wednesday with Sulas Industries, allowing the local start-up company to keep an experimental solar-panel array at North Pond Park.
The agreement for the site, owned by the town, comes with a three-year term, and with other long-term plans for the park, the town council can exit the arrangement at any point.
Still, the council's decision didn't come without concerns, as one nearby homeonwer spoke out Wednesday in an effort to mitigate the glare that she says pours off the panels and into her windows throughout the summer months.
Invented by Fin Doyle, creator of Sulas Industries, the array of solar panels is unique in the sense that many of them have been equipped with Doyle's HelioDrive, a mechanism that requires no electrical power but allows the panels to track the sun much like a flower does, increasing their power-generating capabilities.
In fact, the panels are now generating more power than the park can use, Doyle told the council, and any left over goes back into the grid.
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He said that, from a construction and mechanical standpoint, the project is 100 percent complete, and he called it a success. Meanwhile, more work still has to be done from a promotional standpoint, and Doyle would also like to collect more data from the panels in the coming years, which is why he said he wanted to renew the lease.
Acknowledging there have been complaints from at least one homeowner, Doyle said: "We feel the public perception has been positive."
He added that Sulas Industries gives tours of the site to anyone who wants one and tries to maintain "an open-door policy" with the public.
"My point is, we feel the site is turning into an iconic spot for Silverthorne," he said. "People are referring to it as a landmark."
During the public comments portion of the meeting, a handful of individuals spoke out in favor of renewing the lease, first inked in 2014.
In their remarks, they lauded the council for its commitment to green technology and its support of local business. They also applauded Doyle for his entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to staying in Silverthorne and his inventions, which more than one person called "genius."
Many of the town council members said similar things about the technology and how much they enjoy the town being a part of it. Meanwhile, the council pushed Doyle on issues like posting more data and signage, but its members were still overwhelmingly complimentary of the project.
THE GLARE UP THERE
One homeowner, however, has a very different view.
While Jane Hankison also expressed her support for local businesses and green initiatives, she said the array has also been destroying the view from her house, which sits just across Colorado 9, about 200 to 300 yards away from the solar panels.
"The glare started coming from the solar collector on the southern horizontal array system, which became operational in 2015," she said. "I first photographed the glare on May 18, 2016. The amount of glare directed at my home varied by time of day and actual date, as the glare generated is a function of the relative positions of the sun and the Earth."
Councilwoman JoAnne Nadalin backed up Hankison's assessment, saying she's been to Hankison's home and seen the glare first-hand. Nadalin called it "unimaginably bad" and agreed that Hankison deserves to be able to enjoy the view from her windows.
"My living room, dining room and kitchen face out with huge windows, and I don't want to close my blinds all summer to stop the glare," the homeowner said.
Seeing Hankison in the gallery, Doyle conceded there have been some complaints, and he talked about some of the efforts they've made to fix the problems before Hankison spoke.
These efforts include putting up a shield to try and block the glare, which has shown some success.
While Doyle and the council seemed to agree that some amount of glare is to be expected, they were hopeful efforts to reduce it will mitigate the problem, if not squash it completely.
Citing minutes from a committee meeting in 2014, Hankison argues Sulas Industries initially said there would be no glare from the panels, and her frustrations have been compounded by what she feels is a lack of interest in addressing her complaints.
Hankison said one of the biggest issues arises when the rotating panels malfunction and get stuck in a position facing her house. She said she's levied complaints about faulty panels in the past, but based on her experience, it can take weeks to get any relief from the glare.
That was one of the biggest issues for the council in renewing the lease, and multiple council members told Doyle he must address problems with nearby homeowners as quickly as possible.
"It cannot go for weeks before it gets addressed,"Nadalin said before voting to support Doyle's renewal request. Other council members echoed her statements and pushed Doyle to be as responsive as possible to homeowners' complaints.
Like the council, Hankison too was hopeful the shield can pacify the problem, and council members suggested bringing in some aspect of the arts to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
"I cannot say I enjoy viewing the panels daily," Hankison said while adding that she likes the idea of a shield becoming an artist feature of the display and "hopes the town takes into consideration that (she) will be looking at it daily."
Kevin McDonald did not attend the meeting. Butler said McDonald was unable to be there as he was at his child's college graduation ceremony.
In other business
• Mayor Bruce Butler read two proclamations, one designating May as Mental Health Awareness Month and another, on a lighter note, making June Cycle Silverthorne Month. Butler said they are open to suggestions for July.
• The council approved requests from The Mint and Target to renew their liquor licenses.