Wednesday, April 17, 2013

URA eyes solar for Visitor Center

Public is for project, building architect against

Express Staff Writer

This rendering shows how a set of black solar panels might look on top of the Visitor Center building on Sun Valley Road in Ketchum. Courtesy graphic

    The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency is considering retrofitting the award-winning design of the Visitor Center building in downtown Ketchum, owned by the URA, to incorporate 14 black solar panels that would cost about $14,700. The URA supports the idea as a highly visible “signature project” to promote alternative energy in the “Sun” Valley area.
    At a URA Commission meeting on Monday, public comment favored the proposed project, but Tim Semones, husband of building architect Susan Desko, spoke for Desko against the change. The commissioners discussed the idea and voted unanimously to continue the discussion to the URA’s next meeting on May 20.
    At the meeting, Semones said he and Desko applaud the initiative for alternative energy and agreed with several members of the public who said that Ketchum residents should get used to seeing solar panels and should view them in a positive light, as opposed to considering them eyesores.
    “But, is it going to be a carbuncle on the face of an old friend?” he said.
    In an interview after the meeting, Desko said, “I’m not here to stir up trouble,” and clarified that use of the word “carbuncle” was not her choice. In a separate interview after the meeting, Semones said Desko simply couldn’t make it to the meeting, which is why he spoke in her stead.
    Desko said in the interview that URA Commissioner Randy Hall, also Ketchum mayor, had proposed the idea to her a few weeks ago and that she isn’t “thrilled” with it, but that it could be a “good idea” if designed properly.
    “But it’s not an integrated approach, I would say,” she said of the proposed design.
    Desko said she’s worried about the aesthetic effect, the roof leaking, the panels not being optimally oriented toward the sun and the energy savings taking too long to pay back.
    Josh Solly, co-owner of Ketchum Energy Co. and also a consultant to the URA on the proposed design, said at the meeting that the building’s orientation is a “pretty good angle, not perfect” and that it would take about 20 years for the project to pay for itself.
    “I want to see this done whether I do the work or not,” he said.
    Hailey developer John Campbell said he supports the project and that he’s designed many solar installations and he’s “confident the design won’t leak.” However, Campbell also said it would likely take longer than 20 years to see a financial return. He suggested that the URA “pay close attention” to the finances and conduct a “proper analysis” of the building’s orientation.
    Hall expressed surprise at the meeting toward Desko’s position on the project. He said that Solly had approached him about six weeks ago with the idea and that Desko was “kept in the loop” the whole time through the drafting of the proposed design.
    The commissioners asked Solly to prepare a more in-depth analysis of the finances and building orientation and present it at a URA meeting in May.
    “That’s no problem,” he said.

Brennan Rego:

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