Nederland man planning solar-powered, off-grid mountain retirement home

A Nederland man is set to build a modern, cylindrical home that will be totally energy independent and remain off of the standard electricity supply grid several miles above the mountain town.

Scot Schaeffer and his partner are planning their dream retirement home — a 2,600 square-foot silo-like yurt — to be self-sufficient with how much energy is produced by the nine solar panels and battery storage system they are putting on the 35-acre property at 243 County Road 126.

He is planning on having a propane-burning energy supply to use as a backup and sometimes heat water on demand.

“That will be my project over the next few years to see how little of that I can use,” Schaeffer said.

Steve Szabo, a Longmont-resident and Colorado Renewable Energy Society board member, said grid-free living such as envisioned by Nederland resident Scot Schaeffer, may be becoming more popular as the cost of rooftop solar power generation and battery storage systems continue to decline. ()

Defecting from the power grid has been a goal for him with this project — he said hooking the panels up to the grid and selling the excess energy they produce back to the power supplier could have been more economical, but he was attracted to the freedom and potential to minimize the environmental impact of construction.

“That would have been cheaper for me to go the net metering route, but I did want to do off-the-grid for my own fun and preference,” Shaeffer said. “It does save any impact to the property of having to dig a trench for power lines. And that‘s also one of my goals, was just to have the least impact on this property.”

But the project‘s potential environmental footprint has been a concern of Shaeffer‘s soon-to-be neighbor, Jody Andrews.

Andrews has asked Boulder County staff to consider relocating the areas on the property it has designated as OK for building because he feels the proximity of the buildings — Shaeffer is also planning a shed and agricultural structure that will be several hundred square feet each — to Sherwood Creek could impact wildlife in the area.

Elk and moose have been known to move through the pristine Sherwood Gulch area and hit the stream for water. But Andrews disagrees with where the county placed building envelopes on the property when it sold Schaeffer the parcel, with a conservation easement on it so the county maintained firm control of development on the land.

Schaeffer bought the land for $270,000 in 2016, and has had to reconfigure plans for his driveway several times to provide the proper emergency vehicle and fire department access. The driveway will now require 1,230 cubic yards of grading to meet the requirements, but Schaeffer said he originally hoped to use an already-existing roadway once used by miners that provides access to the home to minimize the construction project‘s footprint.

“There are other (siting) options that do not have nearly the negative impact on this sensitive meadow ecosystem,” Andrews said. “East of the meadows is an area that has already been disturbed by mining activity, including an old road that would make a great driveway.”

Boulder County Commissioners are holding a hearing on whether to approve the project 9 a.m. Tuesday — the county gives special review to projects that require 500 cubic yards or more of grading — and Schaeffer remains confident his home will leave a small environmental footprint due largely to its energy sufficiency.

Grid-free living may be becoming more popular as the cost of rooftop solar power generation and battery storage systems continue to decline, according to Steve Szabo, a Longmont-resident and Colorado Renewable Energy Society board member. Szabo points to a National Renewable Energy Lab study last year that predicted rooftop solar power could come down to $1 per Watt to produce by 2022.

“At that point, people might be defecting from the grid entirely,” Szabo said in an interview last month. “As long as they have a battery, they could do photovoltaic solar.”

Schaeffer is planning on retiring from working as a software engineer in Boulder over the next five years.

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