Quick N' Dirty

Solar installers pool energies
Local solar businesses are taking a strength-in-numbers approach when it comes to getting their message across. This week, they announced the creation of the Southwest Solar Industry Association (SSIA), a trade group representing solar interests in the area.

According to founding member John Shaw, of Shaw Solar, the goal is to provide a unified voice while offering enhanced education opportunities to installers as well as the public.

“The idea behind the group was to advance our shared interests,” said Shaw. “Most of the installers already know each other, and there is always a friendly competition – but when it comes to promoting solar locally, or responding to a policy issue, we can usually come to a consensus quickly.”
Other founding members include Living Solar, Solar Today and Tomorrow, and SolarWorks.

“The solar landscape is dynamic these days,” adds Derek Wadsworth of SolarWorks. “With all the changes happening in our industry – both locally and nationally – we felt we needed an organization that could collectively represent our interests. So instead of allowing other groups to inform our local government or utility what is best for our industry, we thought we’d do it ourselves.”

The solar industry is becoming big business in the area and is only continuing to grow, according to trade group members. Shaw, who has been in business since 2001, estimates there are between 150-200 people working in the solar industry in the area. “There are probably four pages of solar installers in the phone book,” he said. “It’s becoming a big industry.”

In addition to the people it employs, the local solar industry has also been a boon because of the federal money it brings in. In addition to the 30 percent tax credit on solar installations, good through 2016, there was also a 100 percent bonus tax depreciation offered in 2011 as well. “It allows you to fully depreciate the system in one year,” said Shaw. “It doesn’t give you more money, it just puts it in your pocket sooner.”

Despite the industry’s growing economic clout, several group members found a disconnect when it came to communicating with entities, such as La Plata Electric Association, or the public.

“It’s more to just make sure we have a clear voice,” said Shaw. “There are a lot of different groups out there lobbying for a lot of different things.”

Shaw said the group will also help attract better training to the area, which will improve the overall level of service. “I don’t have enough employees to pay for a trainer, but if we all chip in to hire one to come down here, it’ll help raise local standards and we’ll all do better as a group.”

Commission shelves Comp Plan
The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners will begin work on a new land use code after the Planning Commission shelved the controversial Comprehensive Plan last week.

During a Planning Commission meeting Dec. 8, the group took public comment on the plan and its development for three hours before bringing the issue to a vote. It voted against continuing the process, essentially ending the plan’s development.

“It’s sitting on a shelf in my office,” said Jason Meininger, Senior Long Range Planner for La Plata County.

The plan still exists, and the commission has the authority to renew the process in the future, but Meininger said it is highly unlikely.

The Comprehensive Plan gives the county guidelines for what residents want the community to look like in the future, the quality of life they hope for, and a direction for land use in the area.

These guidelines can be used to shape future government and planning decisions.

The commission now looks to the existing Comprehensive Plan, adopted in December 2001, for guidance.

A land-use code provided by county commissioners would offer some policy direction for land use decisions in the county; however, the Comprehensive Plan would be broader and more thorough.

Two years and 150 public meetings in the making, it is estimated the plan represented more than $700,000 in consultant and staff costs and hundreds of hours of work.

Controversy over the plan grew so heated since it was unveiled last April that some county commissioners declared the process “broken” at a recent meeting and recommended against going any further.

In order to become official, the 20-year guiding document, which would provide the framework for land-use regulations, required the sign-off of the Planning Commission.

Haviland Lake gains added protection
The northern leopard frog can hibernate a little easier north of Durango.

Last week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (the recent hybridization of Colorado State Parks and the Division of Wildlife) announced the addition of Haviland Lake to its list of Colorado Natural Areas.

The 125-acre State Wildlife Area will now be known as the Haviland Lake Natural Area.

Started in 1977, the Natural Areas Program has worked to conserve and provide extra protection for ecosystems, species, geology and fossils that are “uniquely Colorado.” Haviland Lake was chosen for its subalpine riparian shrub lands and wet meadows as well as the species they draw, including the aforementioned frog and osprey.

Two other sites were added to the state’s 89 natural areas last week: the 2,529-acre Miramonte Reservoir/Dan Noble State Wildlife Area, critical Gunnision sage-grouse habitat in San Miguel County; and 2,240 acres of tall grass prairie and cottonwood along the Arikaree River in eastern Colorado.

To date, more than 150 rare, threatened or endangered species have been protected in Colorado.

– by Missy Votel and Tracy Chamberlin