Overbeck listening session addresses City solar policy, community issues

Samantha Ye

Fort Collins Councilmember Bob Overbeck hosts an informal community meeting to hear problems residents face in Fort Collins.

During an informal community listening session Wednesday night, Fort Collins residents expressed various concerns to City Councilmember, Bob Overbeck, among them the proposal to have City utilities lease roof and parking lots for solar panel development, instead of using natural open land.

Fred Kirsch, director of the Community for Sustainable Energy (CforSE), presented Overbeck with a stack of letters from community members supporting the proposed change in City solar operations.

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Currently, City Utilities incentivizes solar programs for home and business customers in the form of credits and rebates. Those who install solar photovoltaic systems on their buildings are eligible for rebates when enough solar energy is produced to send back to the electric grid, based on the City’s net metering system.

Utilities also has a community solar program partnership with Clean Energy Collective at the Riverside Community Solar Array, and a second one with Platte River Power Authority on the way.

However, Kirsch said the rebate program is unsustainable as rooftop solar becomes more popular, and that while solar can be a money-saving option, it was only available to those who could afford the upfront costs.

According to EnergySage, the average cost of a solar panel system in Fort Collins is $16,400 before any rebates or incentives.

“It’s a good deal,” Kirsch said, “if you have that capital.”

CforSE proposed that the City look beyond the rebate plan and have the municipal utilities buy and own some solar panels so all residents might benefit.

The plan calls to install panels on leased roof space and parking lots. Kirsch emphasized they did not want renewable energy developments to be put on open space or natural areas the City owns.

“Putting solar panels on top of rooftops and parking lots is going to be a lot more work, but I know that nobody wants to put solar panels on top of Coyote Ridge,” Kirsch said.

Overbeck said any development proposals would have to go through several process steps and citizen boards before reaching Council.

“It makes an interesting use of space,” Overbeck said.

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Overbeck also asked how the new tariffs on imported solar cells and modules set by President Donald Trump on Monday might affect the proposal.

According to Kirsch, Rocky Mountain Institute is looking to develop essentially a pre-fabrication model of installing solar panels to significantly installation lower costs.

“I’m hoping that (the) tariff will encourage someone to pick up (and fund) that RMI model, and then Fort Collins could step in on the demand side of it and say ‘Great, we want to put these solar panels all over parking lots, all over town,’” Kirsch said.

Other concerns brought up during the session were the lack of infrastructure support in the rapidly developing north part of the city leading to traffic congestion and the general process of presenting new evidence in council hearings.

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.