Summit County eyes renewable-energy rules
Summit County, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY – Local officials are revamping development rules to establish guidelines for renewable-energy systems, including solar arrays, wind turbines, hydropower and even small wood-burning furnaces.
County codes currently don’t specifically address some key questions about these emerging technologies,
said planning director Jim Curnutte. Updated code language could help foster more installations of small-scale renewable-energy systems.
The general thrust is to give property owners the right to use renewable-energy sources as long as there is no significant impact to neighbors or the environment.
“We want to strongly encourage the use of these things,” Curnutte said. “But it’s never been clearly articulated in our code. There have been issues of uncertainty, if they’re allowed here or allowed there.”
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For solar arrays, the code changes make it clear they can be erected nearly anywhere on a property other than in the front yard between the house and the street.
As discussed at a work session last week, the changes would also specify that solar-energy installations can exceed the maximum building height in a particular zone district by 10 percent. Solar panels would also be allowed in setbacks (the buffer between property lines or, in some cases, sensitive areas such as rivers or wetlands).
All the new rules are still subject to additional review and public comments at upcoming planning commission meetings. Particulars on the renewable- energy system rules are available from the county planning department.
Wind turbines were also discussed, and the general direction is to encourage them in rural areas. County planners don’t anticipate much demand for placing wind turbines in dense residential or urban areas.
A large-scale map developed by state energy officials suggests that Summit County won’t become a hotbed of wind power anytime soon. There just aren’t enough locations with adequate winds, planners told the county commissioners.
For example, two spots – the county landfill and Colorado Mountain College near Breckenridge – that have already been tested for wind power probably have less potential than anticipated.
Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier pointed out that the state map doesn’t account for potential “micro-pockets,” and said the county’s codes should allow for installation of wind power in places where it could work.
Under the proposed regulations, quieter vertically mounted turbines would be allowed in all zoning districts, not to exceed maximum building heights by 10 percent.
The discussion also included small-scale wood-fired burners that could make use of some of the beetle-killed lodgepole pines in the area. Such installations aren’t common yet, but the technology is widely available, so Curnutte said he expects to see more of them in the future.
The proposed regulations would limit wood-burning boilers to side yards and rear yards, with the stack height permitted to exceed maximum building height by 10 percent.
The county would like to encourage the use of wood-burning energy systems as a way of reducing local need for non-renewable energy, as long as they meet all applicable clean-air standards and other environmental requirements, according to a staff report on the code changes.
Curnutte said energy provider Xcel recently explored the possibility of a wood-fired energy installation that could be built near the Xcel substation at the landfill and feed power into the grid from there.
Small-scale hydropower installations would also be allowed in all zone districts under regulations aimed at protection stream flows, water quality, aquatic habitats and impacts to surrounding areas.