What Local Wind Energy Ordinances Make Sense For Distributed Generation?

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Originally published on the Clean Energy Resource Team blog.
by Fritz Ebinger

wind-ord-blogThe National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Distributed Wind Energy Association(DWEA) paired up recently to promote wind power by reducing permitting barriers, while also protecting resident interests.

The report, County Strategies for Successfully Managing and Promoting Wind Power, was published in early 2012 in conjunction with DWEA’s Small Wind Model Zoning Ordinance. The report’s recommendations and the Small Wind Model Zoning Ordinance are now being implemented across the U.S.

NACo conducted extensive research to learn and share the best practices from county governments on regulating wind energy systems. Integral to the report is NACo’s distinction between different-sized wind energy systems: Smaller distributed generation and larger utility-scale generation. Distributed generation wind turbines consume the energy where it is produced and provide significant benefits, including reduced energy loss by avoiding long-distance transmission, reduced electrical load on America’s aging utility lines, and reduced dependence on fossil and nuclear fuels.

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Over the past decades, most wind energy regulation has focused on utility-scale wind systems. Many counties have not included small wind systems (≤100 kW nameplate capacity) in their zoning codes to allow for their use. This lack of small wind zoning has led to uncertainty and increased permitting costs for small wind systems. Making the permitting process streamlined and accountable serves the interests of small wind system purchasers, the community and the environment.

The NACo report suggests counties research wind technologies and adopt a wind energy engagement strategy before public inquiries to ensure efficient government processes and adherence to planning objectives. Certain governance approaches in the report include Permitted Use Permits, which allow wind systems by default, provided certain design and installation standards are met; Accessory Uses, which allow small wind systems only with other principal uses established by zoning codes, Overlay Zones which identify specific areas within communities appropriate for certain uses, like small wind systems; and Special or Conditional Uses which require a case-by-case review of each wind system for permitting purposes. Other components of small wind permitting and zoning include height, setbacks, lighting, aesthetics, and fees.

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