Wind Turbine Zoning: Wind Power Planning & Permitting Guide
Apr 13th 2022
Wind Turbine Zoning and Planning Guide
Harnessing the wind and turning it into energy, powering your home and life with clean, independent energy? That can be easy to wrap your head around when compared to dealing with zoning and permitting rules and procedures.
Depending on where you live, erecting a wind turbine on your property can be either smooth and painless or…well, kind of a pain.
It can be an easy step to overlook, too. Unless you’ve built or expanded your home, you very likely have not had to deal with zoning rules (unless you’re trying to run a business out of your home, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Why is installing a wind turbine not as simple as erecting a tower and connecting it to your power system? How do you deal with this extra hurdle?
Missouri Wind and Solar is here to help walk you through the process as best we can. The good news is that most rules that specifically govern wind turbines likely don’t apply to residential users. The bad news is the rules that do apply to you are often not written with wind energy conversion systems in mind and can sometimes prevent you from getting peak performance.
The good news is that navigating this process is less intimidating than it looks for the majority of people. There are plenty of laws, regulations, and layers of bureaucracy, but a lot of those either don’t apply to you or they exist to offer you rebates, tax breaks, and other financial incentives for installing your own wind energy system.
We’re here to help you navigate this less-than-fun part of the process so that you can set yourself up for success and not worry about an inspector showing you up one day to tell you your wind turbine is out of compliance. Instead, you can take that energy and use it to enjoy your clean, renewably powered, and independent home.
Local Zoning Rules on Wind Turbines
By far, most rules and regulations regarding small wind turbine systems are enacted at the municipal and county level. Your first step should be to reach out to your local zoning board by phone or email to ask if you even need planning permission in the first place.
To give a complete rundown of zoning rules would be a pretty herculean task. Not only do different counties, towns, and cities have their own rules, but in most places, there are different standards for homes in rural, suburban, and urban environments (not to mention every space in between).
Let’s take a look at a major city and its different built environments as an example.
In addition to its general design requirements, the city of Denver has zoning standards for areas it classifies as suburban, urban edge,. urban, general urban, urban center, and downtown. Combing through the guide, you eventually find that wind energy conversion systems are permitted as an accessory to residential properties in all areas but the downtown district, except when that area is categorized as “mixed use.”
Did you catch all that? If you, like many people, don’t know offhand the precise zoning category your house sits in, the good news is that most places have posted their zoning maps online. It’s easy to find your place and reference the overlaid zoning map to make sure your turbine is permitted.
If your town—or county, if you live in an unincorporated area—has not posted their maps online, you’re most likely going to have to go to the zoning office and study the map in person or get ahold of someone who can tell you.
While those above-mentioned Denver zones allow turbine construction (but no higher than 30 feet above the existing highest point on the property), they all require you to file for a permit before you can begin construction.
How to Get Zoning and Permitting Permission for Your Wind Turbine
Now that you know your zoning designation, you can confidently file for a permit to put up your wind energy conversion system.
Much like the zoning maps, many places allow you to electronically file for your permits from the comfort of your home. Though, in this case, there may be an advantage to going to your local planning office in person.
Some of these rules and regulations can be a bit complicated. Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a rule applies only to commercial wind turbines or what exactly constitutes a “facility.” Going down to the office in person makes it easy to speak with the staff, who can help you answer questions before they turn into construction-busting problems.
Make an appointment or just walk into your local planning office and get that ounce of prevention that will help prevent you from having to hit the brakes on wind power.
Once your permit is filed, your property will receive an inspection to make sure everything is in compliance (and you can probably expect an inspection when construction is done). If you’ve followed instructions and asked questions when you need to, in all likelihood the inspector will give you a pass.
Even if the inspection yields issues, you’ll be able to correct them and make sure your turbine is in compliance before you start depending on it for power.
HOA Restrictions on Wind Turbines
At a level below the city, many people have to navigate the restrictions and bureaucracy of Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs).
With myriad differences (way more so than cities) it’s impossible to generalize about what HOAs may or may not allow. You will have to review what your HOA governs and if there is something in your covenant that would prevent construction of a turbine without HOA permission.
If you’re house-hunting and know that wind power is a goal for you and your family, be careful to check up on the HOA before you close on any property. Once you’re bound to it, your HOA can be powerful, imposing fines for violations, and even placing liens on your property for unpaid fines.
Even if you’ve gone through your local zoning and permitting process, don’t forget to clear things with your HOA. Making sure you have the proper permission before you begin construction can save you from potential fines and certain headaches.
Federal Regulations Affecting Residential Wind Power
Here’s some good news: there are no federal regulations that limit where and how high residential wind turbines can go.
Well, let us rephrase that: there are no federal regulations that limit where or how high a reasonable property owner can mount a turbine for their home.
Without clearance from the FAA, your turbine must not exceed 500 feet from the ground to the tip of the blade at the height of its arc. You also need to get permission if you plan to install a turbine near an airport runway.
There may be some great winds at that elevation but mounting and maintaining a turbine at that height is absolutely untenable for pretty much everyone. If you own property near an airport, you’re likely already familiar with the extra layer of planning permission you need to do pretty much anything.
The fact is most federal rules that govern wind turbines are written for commercial operations, utilities, and large wind farms. When it comes to residential wind turbines, federal laws are there to offer tax incentives that reward the switch to renewable energy.
While the most well-known subsidy for energy efficient systems expired in December 2021, and it has not been restored as of this writing, many wind energy systems still qualify for tax credits through the end of 2023. You can claim those credits by filing form 5695 with your federal tax return (be sure to follow the instructions).
State Laws on Residential Wind Power
Long story short: don’t waste too much time looking into state laws that might affect your planned wind turbine.
Where state laws do exist that relate residential wind systems, they usually are there to devolve the power to regulate small wind energy systems to counties and municipalities. They also prohibit those more local entities from enacting unreasonably strict restrictions on residential wind power.
One exception is New Hampshire. The live free or die state passed a law in 2010 that requires people seeking a permit for wind energy conversion systems to notify neighboring owners if a municipal inspector determines that the turbine is near enough to other properties. The permit will remain open to public comment for 30 days before a decision is made.
This ordinance applies to any system capable of generating less than 100 kilowatts, which encompasses all residential setups (it would take 50 of our 2000W turbines to exceed this limit).
Our goal is to empower you to be self-sufficient, generating your own energy, and also managing your own system. We want to turn you into wind and solar experts. But succeeding with your wind power system is about more than the equipment and the installation.
By helping you navigate the zoning and permitting process for residential wind turbines, we hope to give you a head start in getting your system up and online. We want to make sure that your energy independence journey is as smooth as possible.