Solar panels in operation at Aquarena Springs. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos city councilmembers may soon approve a program to encourage the installation of private solar panels and wind turbines.
The council will give direction to city staff this week to work out implementation issues on an update to the city’s Land Development Code (LDC) that would specify the allowable height and location of wind-based power generators, eliminate current hurdles to installing rooftop solar arrays, and add more regulatory and enforcement predictability to the process of installing such devices. The ordinance would regulate the appearance of turbines, solar arrays, and other renewable energy systems.
The ordinance is one step towards implementation of a program to allow private owners of wind and solar generators to sell surplus power back to the city and other sellers, such as Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), and Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.
“Staff is going to recommend to council that we buy back that generation at the same rate that we would be purchasing it from the (Lower Colorado River Authority) that particular month,” said San Marcos Assistant Director of Public Services-Electric Utility Kyle Dicke to councilmembers last month.
The city adds additional charges to its utility customers’ bills over and above rate that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) charges the city for electricity.
If councilmembers pass the ordinance, the renewable energy systems program may be off the ground in the spring to coincide with the expected implementation of net metering. Net metering, made possible by the smart meters recently installed citywide, will allow customers to view their electricity generation and consumption statistics in nearly real-time.
In October, San Marcos Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commissioners unanimously and enthusiastically recommended that the council approve the renewable energy systems ordinance. No one spoke for or against the ordinance at the P&Z’s public hearing on the matter last month.
City staff said the H-E-B distribution center on Hunter Road and the Armed Forces Reserve Center under construction on Clovis Barker Road may be among the first projects to take advantage of the renewable energy systems initiative. Staff said the federal government and H-E-B wish to install rooftop solar arrays on their facilities.
At Councilmember Shane Scott’s suggestion, city staff is investigating how a solar array of the scope desired by H-E-B would affect the city’s electric utility revenues.
“I would prefer to approve the changes for residential only, initially, and see how it goes before we start losing money,” Scott said last month.
Staff will present its findings to councilmembers before the council votes on the renewable energy systems ordinance. Councilmembers may vote on the ordinance next month.
City staff said tall wind turbines are unlikely to be located in denser regions of the city, due to setback requirements in the ordinance. The ordinance stipulates that wind turbines must be 1.1 times the turbine’s height away from the subject property’s boundaries.
“We don’t want a 60-foot wind turbine in the backyard and have the neighbors on each side bent out of shape,” Dicke said to councilmembers last month.
Dicke said advances in wind turbine technology have rendered the devices quieter and more aesthetically pleasing than older models. The ordinance encourages the installation of turbines in places where tall structures already exist.
The LDC currently requires rooftop mechanical devices to be screened from public right of way. The renewable energy systems ordinance would modify that requirement to facilitate the installation of wind turbines and rooftop solar arrays.
“There’s stipulations in there to make sure that the ordinance protects the neighbors while still encouraging alternative energy resources for both commercial and residential to be utilized,” said Matthew Lewis, the city’s interim director of development services, to councilmembers last month.
City staff recommended that permits be required to install solar arrays on rooftops. Staff said on-site inspections should be required before solar arrays can be installed, for safety reasons. Councilmembers Chris Jones asked staff to consider other means of regulation, such as determining whether existing insurance or homeowners association policies would adequately regulate such installations. Jones and Scott urged staff to find ways allow people to inexpensively obtain permits if they are necessary.
Jones said he would support the city paying for pre-installation inspections or allowing owners to pay for inspection costs through their initial electricity generation proceeds.
“I just hope we are not creating an ordinance and requiring a permit that’s going to require folks to jump through more hoops to the point that it discourages them from doing this — on the residential side,” Jones said.
The renewable energy systems ordinance would add the following definitions to the LDC:
*Small Renewable Energy System: Any facility or installation which is designed and intended to produce energy from natural forces such as wind, water, sunlight, or geothermal heat, or from biomass, for on-site use.
*Large Renewable Energy System: Any facility or installation which is designed and intended to produce energy from natural forces such as wind, water, sunlight, or geothermal heat, or from biomass, for off-site use.Email | Print