Breckenridge solar proposal hits wall in planning |

Breckenridge solar proposal hits wall in planning

BRECKENRIDGE – After hearing from about a dozen nay-sayers and one supporter, the Breckenridge Planning Commission recommended the town council shut down two proposals for large stand-alone solar installations at the Riverwalk Center and the Breckenridge Golf Club at a late meeting Tuesday.

Some commission members expressed concerns with the visual impacts and risks of the 18-foot solar panels, others found the arrays to be in violation of the town’s development code.

“We’re in the effective center of a historic town and (the solar installation) just erodes our authenticity,” planning commissioner Jack Wolfe said of the Riverwalk solar proposal. “We can’t be sustainable at all costs. It appears that the arrays, where they’re visible, become unacceptable.”

Commissioner Dan Schroder supported the proposed solar panels, suggesting they might become, along with the new online EpicMix program, features that begin to shape Breckenridge into a unique “progressive historic town.”

The planning commission spent more than three hours hearing public testimony and discussing the panels until after midnight during their regular meeting Tuesday.

The Breckenridge Town Council gave the Riverwalk and golf club installations initial approval at its March 8 meeting, before referring the proposal to the planning commission for review and recommendation.

The town council may look over the proposal again at its next meeting Tuesday. The proposed solar project would include the installation of 10 solar arrays, with 16 by 16 foot surfaces, along Park Avenue at the edge of the Riverwalk Center parking lot in downtown Breckenridge as well as more than a dozen arrays of the same size around the clubhouse at the Breckenridge Golf Club. Less visible arrays would also be installed on rooftops at nine other public buildings around town, including the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, the police station and the recreation center.

Of the 11 proposed solar locations, the golf clubhouse would be among the most energy efficient, generating 104 kilowatts, while the Riverwalk Center would be the least, generating 46 kilowatts.

The proposed solar installations at the Riverwalk Center are expected to generate approximately 23 percent of the building’s total power annually, saving the town an estimated $6,700 in energy costs in the first year and reducing the building’s carbon output by about 83 metric tons annually.

The solar panels at the Breckenridge Golf Club would likely generate 71 percent of the facility’s annual energy consumption, saving the town approximately $10,800 in the first year.

The panels have to be colocated with the facility consuming the power they generate, according to town officials.

Though many said they supported solar and green initiatives in Breckenridge, the majority of residents and business community members who attended the planning commission meeting came out vehemently against the stand-alone arrays proposed for the Riverwalk Center and golf clubhouse.

“It’s not about the money,” local Ron Shelton said at the meeting. “It’s a feel good project and it gives us bragging rights … Town government could easily gain carbon offsets in other ways.”

A few people pointed out that the arrays, if constructed where they are proposed for the Riverwalk Center, would crop up in the background of wedding photos as well as the International Snow Sculpture Championships, an important tourism event for the town.

Still, others argued that the solar panels are an important green project and would send a message to visitors about Breckenridge’s commitment to sustainability.

“Without hesitation, I support solar,” Schroder said. “It’s the eye of the beholder when it comes to the aesthetics.”

The entire solar project would be installed without cost to the town through an agreement with a private third-party vendor, who would purchase and install the arrays at all 11 locations around town taking advantage of a tax credit available only to the private sector. The town would then pay the private vendor for the discounted energy generated by the panels to power the public buildings.

After five years Breckenridge could purchase the panels at fair-market price, but the town is under no obligation to do so. If the town did not purchase the panels the arrays would be removed by the private company after 20 years when the contract expires.

Local real estate professionals said it is unlikely the arrays would impact property values.

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