The desire for more renewable energy in Telluride bumped up against design guidelines by which members of the Historic and Architectural Commission (HARC) must abide.
In a work session Wednesday evening, Joanna Kanow of the Carbon Neutral Coalition presented her vision for a solar carport located on the school’s south parking lot. The goal, she said, would be to get the school using 100 percent renewable power for the sprawling facility at the town’s west entrance — the carport panels would augment what the school already receives from its investment in the solar array located in Paradox Valley.
“A project like this would not only show Telluride’s commitment to renewable energy, but it would also help offset electricity use, minimize utility bills, offer an EV charging station if applicable, provide shade and minimize snow removal,” she wrote in her presentation to HARC. “A solar carport can turn a wide open stretch of pavement into a significant electricity generator.”
A longtime advocate for the environment, Kanow, who also serves on the town’s Ecology Commission, acknowledged her singular focus on issues pertaining to the environment. “I don’t take no for an answer,” she said.
The technical aspects of the proposal were drawn up and presented by Ahmad JP Sawalmeh, business development director for Ridgway’s Alternative Power Enterprises (APE). One of APE’s recent local projects is the Erdman Enterprises solar array to be installed off Last Dollar Road near the Telluride Regional Airport. The array at the school would stretch in an east-west orientation, along the nose-to-nose row of parking currently in place, covering about 40 parking spaces.
The school carport project would generate 129.6 KW, Sawalmeh said.
“An offset of 100 percent of the school’s energy could happen with this project,” he said.
School superintendent, Mike Gass, said that installing panels on the school’s roof, as some HARC members suggested, would not only void the roof’s warranty, but also “create a maintenance challenge.”
Additionally, he spoke to measures the school has taken to alleviate its energy impacts. Those measures include not only buy-in at the Paradox solar array, but the recent installation of an artificial playing field that has significantly reduced the school’s water consumption. His support of the solar carport came with his understanding that the design might not fit in with the town’s historic character.
“We want to make sure we’re a positive player,” Gass said. “We want to be respectful of the community’s values.”
HARC members expressed various concerns with the proposal as presented. Chair Mark Shambaugh wondered if the array would be better suited for installation on the north side of the school, which owns land on the hillside. Gass said inevitable future expansion of the school would make that a less than ideal solution.
“I shy away from the hillside because it’s one of my few expansion possibilities,” he said.
HARC member Jack Wesson speculated that the slight 5-degree tilt of the panels would be insufficient to shed snow. Sawalmeh allowed that snow would have to be pulled from the panels at times, but that because they were “black and slippery” and warm, those times would be infrequent.
Also raised by commission members were questions concerning glare and what constituted the school’s priorities — more classrooms and teachers, as opposed to installation of a solar array. The primary concern, however, was the project’s visual impacts.
Robert Balkind, an immediate neighbor of the school, spoke against the proposal.
“Visually, this is completely unattractive,” he said. “It’s out of character with the town. The concept is awful. “
A straw vote of the commission spelled an end to the project as currently conceived. Chris Chaffin and Kiernan Lannon each applauded the concept but agreed it was inconsistent with guidelines in that it was in no way screened from view, as their guidelines dictate.
Ann Brady said, “No sale. It does not fit that location. It’s at the beginning of our town.” She further suggested that solar panels could be incorporated into any future expansion of the school. “The school should take that on.”
Shambaugh, Wesson and Sherri Harvey were encouraging, but said the visual impacts would have to be addressed.