Your home may get greener more easily |

Your home may get greener more easily

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailySolar panels line the roof of an eco-friendly house Wednesday in Eagle. Eagle County is considering changing their land-use guidellines to better accommodate altenative energy development such as solar panels and wind turbines.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Neighbors were the biggest thing standing in the way of Tom Luby and his solar panels.

“Some people think they are ugly,” Luby said. “It depends on their outlook.”

State law says homeowner’s associations can’t restrict solar access on residential homes.

Nevertheless, some of his Eagle neighbors had plenty of questions for Luby about the solar system he planned to install on his home. Where will they be located? Will we be able to see them from the street?

Luby got his solar panels, but some questions still remain. Using alternative energy is great, but where is the most appropriate place to put it?

Eagle County officials hope to answer that question for anyone living or building a structure in the unincorporated parts of the county. The county is considering tweaking their land-use rules to make clear what kind of alternative energy can be used in the county.

The idea is that solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric generators all have a place in the county; it’s just a matter of what kind and where, said Adam Palmer, a county planner.

County officials also hope that by opening up the door to certain kinds of alternative energy without expressed county approval, it will encourage more property owners to get off the grid.

State law effectively clears the way for solar panels on most homes with some exceptions. So much of what the county wants to do is to re-enforce state law and encourage homeowners to install them and use them correctly.

Just making the state law, which was passed in 1979, public knowledge might do the trick.

Matt Scherr, director of the local environmental advocacy group, the Eagle Valley Alliance, said neighborhood design review boards typically are the biggest roadblocks for alternative energy enthusiasts. Despite the state law, if a neighborhood board says no, the homeowner is left with little choice but to sue.

“Usually people who are familiar with the state law will do it without permission and hope anyone who wants to stop them will get sued,” Scherr said. ‘If the county does it at a more local level, you have an easier authority to deal with.”

The county’s new rules may be coming at just the right time.

Local homeowners seem to be more interested in using solar systems, said Matthew Charles, director of sales and marketing for Grid Feeders.

His company has worked with clients, particularly those with larger homes, who may be facing hefty fees under the county’s new green building codes. If those homeowners can offset more than half of their energy use by using a solar system, it can save them big bucks up front and in the long run.

“A lot of these people, it’s almost at the point that they are doing it out of necessity,” Charles said.

But should just anyone be able to put a wind turbine in their yard? Just how big of a hydroelectric generator can a homeowner use? That’s what the county hopes to clarify.

The proposal right now would limit hydroelectric generators ” which use rivers and streams to generate electricity ” to only those than can provide up to 500 kilowatts of energy. Only property owners in rural and agricultural areas would have the right to install such a system without being reviewed first by the county.

Those living in more urban residential areas ” say, the middle of Edwards ” would have to run it by the county first. In either case, the county wants to make sure the system doesn’t hurt fish or other wildlife, keeps streams running as usual and wouldn’t allow for dams.

Wind turbines ” tall structures that use spinning blades to gather wind energy ” would be more regulated. Towers would could be no more than 80 feet tall, and would have to be set away from the property line by two times the height, with a few exceptions.

Turbines that generate 20 kilowatts or less would be classified as small scale wind turbines. Turbines that generate more than 20 kilowatts would be classified as large scale wind turbines.

Small scale turbines would be allowed in rural and agriculture areas, and possibly in more urban residential areas if the county gives approval. Large scale turbines would be allowed only in rural, agricultural, commercial and industrial areas, and only after the county has reviewed the project and approved it.

The proposal still has a ways to go before it will make it to the Board of County Commissioners. The county’s Planning Commission got a chance to look at the first draft of the proposal on Wednesday. While they suggested several changes ” mainly to ensure that those systems aren’t neighborhood eyesores ” the commission was in favor of the idea.

“We want to encourage people to do this,” said Pat Hammon, a planning commissioner.

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