Lyon has reduced incentives for solar on rooftops, but wants to build a solar farm near a park


The Lyonnais vote to authorize the construction of a solar farm by the skate park in Bohn Park. A “yes” vote would give the municipal government blank check approval to solicit a contract for the construction and operation of a large-scale solar installation.

Robert brakenridge

There are reasons to vote yes, but stronger reasons to vote no.

On the positive side, supporters say a solar farm will help reduce Lyon’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, the city’s public service is contractually limited by its Electricity supplier based in Nebraska not to produce more than 5% of its electricity from a municipal solar power plant. It has to buy the rest of its electricity from the supplier, which relies heavily on coal and gas production.

Thus, this utility project cannot make much progress towards reducing carbon emissions. Five percent is the cap. It’s not much. The project will also not reduce utility bills significantly – it could increase them! – nor greenhouse gas emissions.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, it will be up to residents and businesses and their solar installations on the roofs of Lyon to achieve more ambitious solar targets. Rooftop solar power is a quick way to generate a much larger amount of solar power in the city. This can lower utility bills, make rentals more affordable, and lower business operating costs. Until last summer, the Lyon city utility had a standard net metering policy that encouraged it, and the utility’s bottom line was very satisfactory.

This summer, however, things have changed.

Lyon adopted a rate that removed two-thirds of the solar incentive on the roofs. What had been a dollar-for-dollar credit to power the grid with solar energy has now become 34 cents on the dollar. This has been described as a step towards protecting the utility from “too much” solar energy on the roof. The new policy is much less favorable than in neighboring municipalities.

With the move, the Lyon government put the brakes on rooftop solar installations, long before they reached a percentage high enough to have an impact on the company’s bottom line.

Why remove the incentive for private solar installations, even when planning a utility solar installation that can only provide 5% of the city’s electricity? Should voters support these changes?

Solar installations should not be controversial. Done well, solar panels can benefit municipalities. Other communities and regions proceed differently. Here are the solar energy guidelines for a single regional solar planning effort in the Northeast: “1) prioritize development over previously disturbed areas and existing buildings, 2) protect scenic views, 3) protect historical and cultural resources, 4) protect ecological resources, 5) maintain the objective of conserved lands.

Under such sensible priorities, this Lyon project would not be encouraged.

Lyon has other options for a municipality-owned solar panel and battery storage, including over 2 acres of land and roofs of buildings in the city. Lyon public works establishment; a 1.3 acre uncovered parking lot near the wastewater treatment plant; and over an acre of uncovered parking at Bohn Park. Expenditure estimates are required for each option. If taking a park is the cheapest approach, then tell voters, instead of stating that the park is the only place possible.

The land itself is an asset of exceptional value. It was provided to the city in part through a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, for outdoor recreation purposes. The proposed site delineates a recreational trail for our community, part of which would now become an access road. Residents and visitors walk there every day; skiers use the track in winter. This land was to be kept for future residents.

Due to the associated battery storage, this utility solar farm would truly be a kind of industrial facility. As a critical facility, it must be insured, fenced and closed; road access must be provided; and it must be protected from intruders, including at night. A review of the impact on public use of the park is clearly required before seeking voter approval to take this land. Should pedestrian access to this end of the park be maintained? Will the visual impact and glare issues be resolved? Surprisingly, the proposed location was not reviewed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission prior to the scheduling of the vote.

To summarize: the public electricity service of the city of Lyon has largely removed a major incentive to solar on the roofs, even though a climate emergency was recently declared by the city council. This is inconsistent with using utility revenues to help build a solar farm.

Excess energy generated by solar power on residential and commercial rooftops is one of the many ways forward, and the benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions are reaping the benefits of everyone. We must certainly move resolutely towards more renewable energies.

However, decisions about our municipal parks and open spaces also deserve public attention and input while we do so. Is this park hold necessary for this purpose? is this the best way forward to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

State law allows a city council to “sell and alienate” a park only through a ballot, in which “said sale and its conditions and considerations” appear on the ballot. The park will certainly be phased out, in the sense that it will be permanently removed from use of the park.

But voters are not informed of the conditions. A ‘no’ vote now sends a message: First, go through normal consultative processes and present a mature plan – and, most importantly, a coherent solar policy – so residents know what they are voting on and why.

Robert Brakenridge, from Lyon, is a member of the city’s Ecology Advisory Council. He works as a senior researcher at the University of Colorado.

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