Greenwood Village proposal on solar arrays prioritizes aesthetics over kilowatts

Greenwood Village is considering an ordinance that would prioritize aesthetics over a new state law that encourages more residential solar power.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Monday, following weeks of discussion about proposed limits on the square footage of ground- and pole-mounted solar arrays. The size would be based on the size of a homeowner’s lot rather than the power they need.

The ordinance was prompted by a complaint from homeowners about their neighbor’s solar array.

“This came about because a neighbor had some of these very large, and in their opinion and in my opinion, too, ugly large solar panels ground mounted in the house next door,” Councilman Dave Bullock said in a recent study session. “They have expressed to me this has dramatically decreased their enjoyment of their property.”

But critics say the upscale suburban enclave is going in the opposite direction of a new state law that allows on-site solar arrays to produce up to 200% of the annual needs of a home or business. That’s up from 120% and is an effort to help Colorado meet its goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The recently signed Senate Bill 261 stresses the importance of climate change issues and reflects that many people want to generate more clean energy at their homes, Councilman Tom Dougherty said during a July 19 meeting.

Other council members countered that Greenwood Village doesn’t take its cues from the Colorado General Assembly. They pointed to the council’s declaration in 2020 that the city would buck statewide police reform laws by shielding officers from facing personal liability for misconduct.

“I for one feel no connection or commitment to anything our legislature does because there’s many people in Greenwood Village that don’t agree with what the legislature passes,” said Bullock, sponsor of the ordinance.

The Colorado Solar and Storage Association, a trade organization, shared its calculations with the council that showed how much power the solar arrays under the proposed size requirements would produce. In many cases, especially at 450 square feet, the panels wouldn’t generate enough electricity to power the homes, according to COSSA.

“The ordinance is so restrictive that it concerned a number of our constituents, including folks who live in Greenwood Village and who do business there and are trying to provide solar to residents,” said Roger Freeman, chairman of the COSSA board.

The ordinance doesn’t apply to rooftop solar panels. However, a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden found that only about a quarter of homes are suitable for panels.

Bob Doyle, a 25-year Greenwood Village resident and council candidate, opposed a moratorium on new ground solar arrays while the ordinance was being written.

“I did testify to the effect that I feel it’s wrong-minded in the sense that we’re facing such dire consequences from climate change and that putting a moratorium on any kind of solar installation just seemed like the wrong message to the community,” said Doyle, an environmental engineer.

The proposed ordinance requires the solar arrays be screened, and Doyle said that is the best solution. He said his neighbor planted trees to screen his panels.

State Sen. Steve Fenberg, a sponsor of the bill easing restrictions on solar arrays, expressed frustration with Greenwood Village’s proposal.

“Coming right after a summer that proved climate change is irrefutably threatening our way of life, it’s absurd that a town council would be going out of their way to limit a private individual’s adoption of clean energy,” Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, said in a text. “Some council members may not like looking at solar panels in their neighbor’s backyard, but most of us don’t like being stuck indoors due to having some of the worst air quality in the world.”

Greenwood Village Mayor George Lantz didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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