Photo by Don Nelson
A consulting company suggested that the town of Winthrop consider installing a solar array at the well pump house on Twin Lakes Road.

An energy consulting company that is exploring ways the Town of Winthrop can save money inadvertently strayed into a local controversy when it recommended that the town consider a large solar panel array to power its well pump on Twin Lakes Road.

“Its an interesting idea,” Mayor Sally Ranzau said at last week’s Town Council meeting. “But the timing is a little awkward.”

That’s because the suggested solar array, which would surround the pump house, would be just down the street from the W-3 business zone that is at the heart of a discussion over whether existing Westernization code restrictions on solar panels should be eased.

That discussion is still ongoing among town officials, including the planning commission and council.

“I’m not sure it would be wise to go ahead without investigating it a little more,” Ranzau said of the proposal, which if adopted would commit the town to investing money in the project.

The site would be subject to Westernization requirements that would likely include a sizable fence. The visibility of  non-Western installations has been an issue in the W-3 zone discussions.

The council heard a presentation by Scott Lewis, representing Apollo Solutions Group, which has been conducting — at no cost to the town — an energy audit and preliminary analysis of ways the town could lessen its energy costs.

Lewis said the proposed solar array would generate about 100Kw of power, enough to run the well pump. “That would be about as big as you could make it without being in competition with the local utility,” he said. Lewis said it wouldn’t be practical to add more solar panels to the town’s existing array near the sewage treatment plant.

The solar array could produce energy cost savings of up to $10,000 a year, according to information provided to the council by Apollo. Lewis said the town’s investment could be paid off in about 15 years.

Lewis said Apollo is “looking for grant-worthy projects” so that the town’s investment would be reduced. He said grants could cover up to two-thirds of the estimated cost of about $650,000. Possible sources are the state Department of Commerce or Trans Alta, a Canadian power company that is investing in renewable energy resources.

Lewis additionally suggested that the town replace the existing electric furnace at Town Hall with two high-efficiency heat pumps, which he said would cost between $28,000 and $34,000, some of which might be covered by grants.

In other business:

• The council approved a one-year ground lease at the Town Trailhead, where Methow Trails has proposed to place a waxing hut that was donated by a Mazama-area resident. The town will not charge Methow Trails for the lease. Ranzau said the waxing hut meets Westernization code requirements.

• The council approved a contract with the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative and Lighting Solutions to retrofit many of the town’s lighting fixtures.

• Ranzau reported that the search for additional members for the town’s Westernization Design Review Board continues. The board currently has three members, but needs four to have a quorum. The Planning Commission is currently handling Westernization ordinance issues.