How Communities Can Welcome Wind Farms

Guest Blog | March 23, 2016 | Energy Policy, Wind
Credit: Clipper Windpower

This blog is part of the Southern Wind Energy Association’s Windy Wednesday series leading up to the wind energy industry’s largest annual event, WINDPOWER 2016, being hosted in New Orleans May 23-26. Registration and details available here. You can read the other blogs in this series by clicking on #WindyWednesday

With new turbine technology, proposed wind farms projects are starting to emerge across the Southeast. This clean, low cost form of renewable energy can bring many benefits to states across the Southeast. But, with only one large-scale wind farm in the region, wind energy is typically an unfamiliar energy source for local communities. How can local leaders, policymakers, and clean energy advocates streamline the permitting process to attract wind farms to their community? How can they ensure future projects will be sited responsibly and safely?

Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy’s WINDExchange hosted a webinar that provided fantastic resources to promote responsible wind farm development while ensuring public safety. Mia Devine, with Northwest SEED, shared the new Wind Permitting Toolkit, which includes information on standardizing zoning regulations and the permitting processes. The toolkit also contains resources for implementing a model wind ordinance, which helps local governments in adopting policies for responsible development of wind energy.

Sensible regulations regarding wind turbine siting can bring a level of protection for nearby residents while allowing responsible wind energy development. The Wind Toolkit provides example language with commentary explaining each provision. It’s important to note that ordinances are not one size fits all. A small-scale wind turbine should be addressed differently from a large utility-scale wind farm. For example, the ability to obtain a permit for a small shed should be different than a large condo, as Devine explained. Model wind ordinances often address location, permitting process, and construction of a potential wind farm. The toolkit breaks down regulations for height restrictions, setback, noise standards, and safety.

The Georgia Wind Working Group's Model Wind Ordinance

The key is to work with policymakers and regulators to pass a model wind ordinance well before a wind energy project is even proposed in the community. Even if a county has not experienced wind development, we should encourage policymakers to be proactive and prepare for the new possibility of wind energy. Here in the Southeast, we’ve seen multiple proposed wind projects get banned by regulation. Anti-wind farm activists are disguising wind farm bans as model ordinances. The ordinances appear to regulate wind farms, but in reality these ordinances create sound levels and setbacks that make it virtually impossible for any type of wind turbine to exist in the community.

While these specific toolkits do not include any of our Southeastern states, there is a simplified toolkit you can download to create a personalized toolkit for your community. The Department of Energy also has an online database with over 400 wind energy ordinances that can be used as examples. Here in the Southeast, the Georgia Wind Working Group developed a model wind ordinance guide in 2010.

By working with residents, scientists, and wind developers, policy makers can craft smart rules to protect all parties involved. It’s important for the permitting process of a wind farm to be transparent and ensure public safely. By engaging the community early and often, the community is more likely to adopt a wind farm project in the future.

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