How do I get a permit?
Getting a Building Permit
A wind turbine is a structure that requires a building permit. Zoning regulations often limit the height, placement, and other characteristics of "appurtenant" structures, so a conditional (special) use permit or variance may be necessary. It's usually best to let your neighbors know about your installation. Be prepared to answer questions and clear up common misconceptions with well-documented facts about small wind turbines.
- General Starting Information
- Conditional (Special) Use Permits
- Letting Your Neighbors Know: Tips for Public Hearings
- Useful Links
General Starting Information: Contact County Planning or Permitting Department
Find out what zoning regulations apply to appurtenant, or non-dwelling, structures on your property. Ask if small wind energy systems are specifically addressed by local ordinance, and if so get a copy of the ordinance. You'll need to know the permitting procedures and find out what documentation is required for your turbine. You may have to submit a structural plan drafted by an engineer, but documents from your turbine manufacturer or dealer may be enough. (A checklist of common permitting issues is available for California residents.)
Conditional (Special) Use Permits
If zoning rules list small or residential wind turbines as an approved "conditional" or "special" use for your property, you need only comply with the relevant conditions -- which usually pertain to minimum lot size, maximum tower height, setbacks, and electrical code compliance. The manufacturer or dealer may be able to help with the documentation.
If small wind turbines are not an allowed use, you may have to apply for a conditional use permit, which could involve public hearings before you local planning board.
Check local land-use codes carefully for special zoning ordinances that authorities may have overlooked. A turbine owner in California avoided turbine tower height restrictions through a forgotten wind energy zoning ordinance that had been passed decades earlier.
A zoning variance is a project-specific exception from existing zoning regulations.
If the zoning code prohibits structures more than 35 feet, tall, for example, a wind turbine will probably need a variance from the rule unless special provisions have already been inserted for wind energy systems. Local county or city planning boards usually have to approve variances.
An application for a variance should cite the specific rule and list reasons why a structure should be excepted. Height restrictions are a common barrier for wind turbine applicants, who often find height limits set at 35 feet because fire trucks could not pump water higher than that when the code was written. These rules
are now obsolete, but residents may nevertheless insist on preserving them because they feel taller structures would negatively alter the neighborhood's appearance. You should be prepared to explain that the impact of your wind turbine will be minimal. Take note of other tall structures neighbors
already accept: water towers, rooftop satellite dishes, cellular
communications towers, etc.
Letting Your Neighbors Know...Tips on Public Hearings
BE PREPARED to answer questions about your project, especially if you have to appear at a public hearing seeking a conditional use permit or variance (Conditional or special use permits do not always require hearings, but a variance will). A hearing may turn out to be a mere formality, but be ready for anything that might come up. Here are some tips:
- Seek the support of your neighbors before the hearing.
See AWEA's "Sample Letters"
- Compile documented factual information to reassure anyone worried about noise, visual impact, possible affects on wildlife, and property values.
See AWEA's "Factsheets."
- Planning and zoning officials may be unfamiliar with small wind energy systems, so be prepared to explain the basics. It's helpful to have photographs of similar installations.
See AWEA's "Success Stories."
About Permitting Fees ...
Permitting requirements, procedures, and fees vary widely among counties. Fees for building permits, use permits, zoning permits, and "plot plans" can range from $400 to $1,600. There may be other fees for public notification, hearings, and environmental impact studies costing from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Remember, if a fee seems inappropriate or excessive, you may be able to get it reduced or waived. Find out what you are being charged for and offer to provide documentation or information that makes the fee unnecessary.
- Permitting Small Wind Turbines: Learning from the California Experience
- Windmills and Zoning Boards site
- AWEA Zoning FAQ
- Small Wind Fact Sheet