What started as an innovative idea and a desire to reduce energy costs has turned into a debate that could ultimately make it easier for homeowners …
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What started as an innovative idea and a desire to reduce energy
costs has turned into a debate that could ultimately make it easier
for homeowners to go green.
Castle Rock residents Mike Spencer and Erica Shehan came up with
a concept that would create a miniature wind farm right in their
own backyard. Frequent winds make their home in The Meadows a
viable spot to erect an energy-generating turbine. After conducting
a little bit of research, the eco-conscious couple set out to
pioneer a new world of residential wind harvesting.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to try something new,”
Spencer said. “We could save money and use all of this free energy,
maybe start a trend so other people could take advantage.”
Roughly $2,500 worth of parts and hours of assembly later, the
20-foot-tall turbine worked like a charm. Then came a phone call
from a town building official: the wind turbine did not have the
proper permits and would need to come down immediately. If they did
not comply, the police would be knocking on their door the
Spencer and Shehan were shocked, especially considering the
positive response and encouragement they originally received from
the town staff with whom they discussed their idea.
It turned out that in order to place the turbine in an area that
would make best use of the wind, it would cost $1,500 for a
use-by-special-review permitting process. The review is required by
The Meadows planned development documents approved by the town when
the neighborhood was in its early stages. Most homeowners
associations have similar restrictions in place.
A use by special review considers arguments from individual
homeowners and the sentiment of neighbors when deciding whether to
stray from an established policy on a case-by-case basis. But even
if the plans are reviewed, there is no guarantee that they will be
“My biggest gripe is the city is prolonging my investment on
this and requiring others to pay these permit costs,” Spencer said.
“At this rate, it would take another three or four years for me to
There is no differentiation in the fee structure for the cost of
the review, meaning the $1,500 flat fee applies to both homeowners
and commercial applicants. In addition, Spencer and Shehan would
need to request a variance – at a cost of another $1,000 – to place
the turbine in an area where wires would protrude over a required
Castle Rock has rules and regulations in place for individuals
to install solar panels, but has not approved any procedures that
allow homeowners to collect and use other types of alternative
energies, including wind.
“We knew it was going to come. We just didn’t know when,” said
Heather Day, the town’s planning manager. “We weren’t surprised
someone was interested in something like this given the hype for
alternative energy and the rebate programs out there.”
It all comes down to timing. Castle Rock’s planning commission
is already in the process of updating guidelines for its
sustainability plan to make it easier – and more cost-effective –
for individuals to harvest their own alternative energies, Day
said. Plans are already in place to solicit public feedback this
fall to gauge the sentiment of residents on possible changes to
town codes. Castle Rock officials recognized there are regulations
in place that make it difficult for residents to engage in such
practices, Day said, however, safety considerations and the need
for public support must come first.
“If Mike had come in later on, we might have been more set up
and restrictions would be out of the way, but it depends on what
the community response is,” she said, adding Spencer can also
appeal to his HOA’s board of directors for a change.
Spencer said he has received widespread support from his
neighbors, and even some inquiries on how they might install a wind
turbine if it proves worthwhile. He plans to eventually expand his
system’s capabilities to capture solar energy in addition to
Because it is a first-time request, Castle Rock is willing to
work with Spencer to mitigate the high costs and roadblocks that
are preventing him from using the turbine, Day said, adding the
variance cost can be eliminated if he puts the tower in a different
place in the backyard. Structural and electrical permits for the
turbine must be in place before electricity providers give
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