Last week I heaped praise on Portland’s plans to revise their city building codes to encourage family-friendly courtyard housing.
This week, I am feeling the same way about another set of changes being considered that would make it easier to generate clean energy and reduce runoff in urban neighborhoods. A package of changes called the “Green Bundle” is being reviewed this summer by the City of Portland. The Planning Commission will have a hearing on the proposed changes on August 25.
Among many other nifty urban clean energy ideas like solar panels and green roofs, the Bundle would “allow small-scale wind energy systems to exceed Zoning Code height limits, either as stand-alone towers or when incorporated into building architecture.”
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This is a pretty big deal when you think about it. Many people might see the words “stand-alone towers” and start speed-dialing city officials to oppose the idea of a neighbor erecting a noisy, whirring monster in their backyard.
But a quick review of the existing technology shows that there are actually a variety of options in the wind industry that are designed in a way that would allay these fears and could gain support—they’re smaller than you’d think, and quieter. Here is an example from Oregon Wind of a combination street light and wind turbine.
The QR5 is not likely to be the kind of wind generation installed on a house. Here is a video of one the first urban windmills in the United States in operation.
But these clean energy technologies are arguably less ugly and dangerous that our existing electrical infrastructure. Here they are side by side.
These are hardly the monsters we are used to thinking of when we think of wind power.
The code changes also include making it easier for homeowners to install solar panels and green roofs. Green roofs are becoming a lot more common in the Northwest. A Seattle architecture firm, B9 Architects, has already made a practice of including them in many of its residential projects. And, setting an example, Seattle’s City Hall has a green roof as well.
Vancouver, BC, actually has changed its code to require that new homes have appropriate piping built in to accommodate solar panels and another local initiative rewards builders for each unit they build with solar generating capacity.
Portland has also included code changes that remove barriers to installing rain barrels, requirements for bike racks and allowing the construction of larger eaves which can improve energy efficiency.
While some of these ideas may seem a bit far fetched now, the technology and incentives are beginning to make them a lot more likely. And the pull of creating more green jobs is another big incentive—somebody’s got to have the expertise and equipment to install this stuff. A recent study completed by the University of California Berkeley suggests that renewable energy “generates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, per unit of energy produced, and per dollar of investment,” than fossil fuel energy.
Portland is making some important steps to prepare for a time when urban renewable energy becomes as prevalent—and accepted—as conservation efforts already underway (think recycling or energy retrofits).