Dallas-Fort Worth cities tackle requests as green energy picks up steam


by By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News


Posted on September 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 6:17 PM

Kurt Buehler has big plans to cut the soaring energy costs for his 6,000-square-foot home in Flower Mound.

RICKY MOON/Special Contributor
Jeff Issokson of Waxahachie said his system has cut his monthly electric bill from $400 to between $55 and $75.

He wants to install a 55-foot wind turbine that he hopes will slash his $800 to $900 monthly electric bill by 25 percent to 30 percent.

But for three years, his big plan has been sitting in a box in his garage as he waits for the Town Council to give him the go-ahead to erect the structure on his 8.5-acre property. His windmill is prohibited by land use regulations, but officials will be reviewing the town's environmental policies at an upcoming work session.

'I would love to have this thing up,' Kurt Buehler (left) said of his windmill, which remains packed in a box. The Flower Mound resident is awaiting city approval to install it.

"I would love to have this thing up," said Buehler, whose desire for wind power is motivated by both economic as well as environmental concerns. "It's the responsible thing to do."

Buehler is not alone. Throughout North Texas, homeowners, itching to save money or the planet, are asking municipalities to allow solar or wind-generated energy saving devices. Their requests are beginning to bear fruit.

Some area cities have given a cautious green light to green technologies, and others are considering regulations. Municipalities that don't take action may be left in the dust of the growing momentum of the green movement.

"It's a relatively new thing for cities, but with all the emphasis on green living, it will become more important," said Bret McCullough, chief building official in Allen where a wind turbine ordinance is under consideration.

Allen, like other cities, will examine how these devices will affect residential areas. "We will be concerned that we get an ordinance that doesn't detract from the aesthetics or property values of a neighborhood," McCullough said.

That has been the biggest hurdle facing Charles Crumpley when he has addressed elected officials in cities where he has sold wind turbines to residents.

"When I was in the city of Cross Roads, a woman stood up and said, 'They're loud and they're ugly, and I won't have anything to do with it,' " recalls Crumpley, owner of WeKnow Technologies in Dallas.

The woman's objections were valid 20 years ago, Crumpley said.

"They were ugly," he said of the old machines. "They looked like an airplane propeller sitting on top of a pole in your backyard, and the blades sounded like a helicopter."

But experts say windmills have become more streamlined and quieter over the years. Crumpley said his Skystream 3.7 model sits on a 55-foot pole and reaches 63 feet at the tip of its three gently curving blades. It generates about 45 decibels.

Noise generated from modern wind energy systems is "comparable to the noise emitted from an average refrigerator or a dishwasher," concluded McKinney planning officials in information they prepared for a proposed ordinance expected to be presented to the City Council in November.

Noise isn't an issue for solar panels that turn the sun's energy into electricity.

Southlake adopted an ordinance in June that allows residents to install ground- or roof-mounted solar panels if they obtain building and specific use permits. Ground-mounted systems can't be in front of the house or less than 10 feet from any side or rear property.

There are no location requirements for roof-mounted systems, but Ken Baker, Southlake's director of planning and development services, said the permitting process will go through the City Council, which may impose more restrictions.

And, he pointed out, homeowner associations may have their own regulations. Several bills were introduced in the last legislative session that would have made it illegal for HOAs to prohibit solar panels, but none became law.

Southlake resident Tony Martin, whose request for a solar energy system led to the city's ordinance, hasn't gotten any pushback from his HOA over his plan to install solar panels on the south-facing rear roofline of his one-story house.

Before he was granted a specific use permit for the project, the city sent letters to his neighbors and none raised any objections, said Martin, who expects the system to slash his energy bills in half.

His solar panels came with a $60,000 price tag, but he plans to cut that cost to about $18,000 with a 30 percent federal tax credit and an Oncor incentive that will rebate $2.40 a watt for his 10,000-watt system.

"The cost of solar systems will come down by half in the next five years," Martin predicts. "The systems are getting cheaper. But the cost of energy is never going to come down."

Jeff Issokson encountered little resistance when he became the first Waxahachie resident to install a wind energy system in August 2008.

"No one showed up at the City Council meeting to protest. The city was in favor of it," said Issokson, who lives in a 2,500-square-foot, all-electric house. The combination of a pellet stove and wind-generated electricity has slashed his monthly electric bill from $400 to between $55 and $75.

Waxahachie allows small wind energy systems on a minimum of 2-acre lots with a specific use permit. The windmills must have a setback of 1.1 times the height of the tower.

"The higher you go the more property you have to have," said Clyde Melick, Waxahachie's director of planning.

Earl Tooke had a little tougher time in November 2007 when he asked the Sachse City Council for permission to install a windmill on his 10-acre property. The room was crowded with residents who were concerned about the noise and aesthetics.

"It was standing-room only. People were very concerned," Tooke said. "But once it went up, people loved it. I can't tell you how many people stop us when we're out in the yard."

Barry Shelton, Sachse's director of community development, agrees. "We have not had any complaints," he said. "It's my opinion, when it was installed, it just blended in and became part of the landscape."