Unlike solar systems, the greatest permitting obstacle for small wind turbines is not the presence of overly burdensome permitting requirements, but rather a lack of applicable guidelines. Without a standard set of rules, administrators may evaluate small turbines using the same detailed permitting processes that are required for large wind turbines or other types of major energy infrastructure.
Local governments should identify areas in their jurisdictions where wind energy development may conflict with surrounding land uses. A number of factors should be considered when identifying these areas, including locations of endangered bird and bat habitat, density of existing or planned development and the location of sensitive land uses. Small wind turbines should then be designated as conditional uses in the areas of potential conflict and as permitted uses in all other areas. Designating small wind turbines as permitted uses does not mean that their potential impacts are ignored. Design guidelines and performance standards can avoid the potential impacts of most proposed small wind turbines, leaving the more rigorous conditional use permit application and review for use only in areas where the potential impacts are greatest.
Local governments can further expedite the permitting process by adopting a list of pre-approved small wind turbine models and by providing local inspectors with the necessary training to properly evaluate proposed small wind installations.
Find detailed recommendations for permitting small wind turbines in GRACE’s report: Taking the Red Tape Out of Green Power, and be sure to check out the Distributed Wind Energy Association’s Permitting and Zoning Model Ordinance.