When technology and history collide
BRECKENRIDGE – The Breckenridge Planning Commission will examine the use of solar panels on homes in the historic district on a case-by-case basis after Realtors and other residents have asked if the town would consider letting them install them.Eric Westerhoff, owner of Innovative Energy in Breckenridge, recently outlined to the commission the benefits of solar panels, including their energy and financial savings and how technology has changed to make the panels more aesthetic.”Unless someone points them out, you don’t see them,” said Innovative Energy branch manager Scott Spofford. “There’s the potential to put shingles in that don’t clash with the historic look.”That’s the biggest concern the commission has when it comes to the 350 buildings in the historic district. Keeping the historic district intact is important for tourism, as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town code also requires homeowners and developers to keep as much of their historic elements intact when remodeling or building.But the town also encourages innovation – it has implemented environmentally friendly biodiesel for use in its vehicles, green building guidelines and is test driving a hybrid car – so it now must balance the benefits of solar technology with aesthetics.
“It’s not a simple issue,” said Town Councilmember Jim Lamb, who supports alternative energy. “On one hand, we have to retain the character of the town, the historic district. On the other hand, with oil predicted to go to $80 a barrel, we want to encourage energy conservation to reduce our dependency on oil.”He and others support the idea of evaluating each application on a case-by-case basis.”There’s a difference between slipping in a couple of solar cells discretely on the property and putting up a 400-square-foot solar array that looks hideous,” he said. “That would compromise the integrity of the historic district.”Councilmember Eric Mamula, who also sits on the planning commission, said the town needs to abide by its historic district guidelines.”I think there are probably some options out there,” he said. “But we’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of effort making the historic district look like it does.”
“When it comes to renewable resources and saving energy, we have to err on the side of flexibility,” said Councilmember Jeffrey Bergeron. “We don’t want to ruin the integrity of the historic district, but anything we can do to limit our dependence on fossil fuels is something we should do as not only people, but a community.”The town is also considering whether a homeowner could receive positive points for installing solar panels.Breckenridge issues positive and negative points for such things as landscaping and public art when making its decision to approve a project.”I think there’s an opportunity for positive points,” said town planner Chris Behan. “We just haven’t had an application. The code provides the means for it, but just like any other aesthetic element, the planning commission reviews it on case-by-case basis.”Lamb argued that there are already solar panels in the historic district, notably the ones that power the flashing pedestrian crossing signs on Main Street.
Westerhoff showed commissioners – and last month, the newly formed Summit Green Building Group – new technology that better blends solar panels into roofs, making them more aesthetic. Such examples can be seen on Don Sather’s Bighorn Materials building in Silverthorne.Recent court cases have resulted in state statutes that prevent homeowner’s associations from prohibiting homeowners to put up solar panels and satellite dishes. But that doesn’t extend to municipalities, Behan said.Solar energy can feed electrical, passive heating, water purification, cooking and composting systems, Westerhoff said.”And Colorado has 300 active solar days each year,” he said. ‘It’s an appropriate technology that can help serve our energy needs.”
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