Small Wind Guidebook/Is Wind Energy Practical for Me

From Open Energy Information


Is Wind Energy Practical for Me?

A small wind energy system can provide you with a practical and economical source of electricity if:

  • Your property has a good wind resource.
  • Your home or business is located on at least 1 acre of land.
  • Your local zoning codes or covenants allow wind turbines.
  • You can determine how much electricity you need or want to produce.
  • It works for you economically (you may be eligible for state/utility or federal incentives).
  • You're comfortable with long-term investments.
  • Your average electricity bills are $150 per month or more or you don't have access to utility grid power.[1]
Robin and Duncan Ross installed a Bergey 10-kW turbine on a 120' SSL tower in Lockport, New York. Photo from Niagara Wind & Solar, Inc., NREL 26772

You may wish to refer to the Small Wind Consumer's Guide Checklist, which was developed by the Northwest Wind Resource and Action Center. The document contains ten questions that interested parties should consider prior to installing a small wind energy system and three common mistakes to avoid.

Zoning and Permitting Issues

Zoning refers to the general local regulations that allow and restrict various types of projects, whereas permitting refers to acquiring permits for a specific project within the scope of those zoning rules.

The zoning and permitting processes for wind energy installations seek to address safety, aesthetics, and community interests and concerns. Some of these concerns might include sound level, visual impact, wildlife impact, TV/radio interference, ice shedding, or broken equipment.

Practices vary dramatically across the country so becoming familiar with the local regulations, authorities, and general requirements is helpful. In some cases, zoning and permitting expectations are consistent and straightforward. In other cases, hearings may be required and the process is uncertain. A project designed within the existing limitations will experience a much smoother permitting process and will be more likely to receive a permit. But if your project falls outside of defined limits, it must usually undergo a special review process to obtain a variance from the existing rules and regulations — a potentially expensive and time-consuming process that often involves at least one public hearing and has no guarantee of success.[2]

Before you invest in a wind energy system, you should research potential zoning and permitting obstacles. Some jurisdictions restrict the height of the structures permitted in residential-zoned areas, although variances may be obtained. Most zoning ordinances have a height limit of 35 feet.[3]

You can find out more about zoning and permitting requirements by:

  • Contacting the local building inspector, board of supervisors, or planning board. They can tell you if you will need to obtain a building permit and will provide you with a list of requirements.
  • Visiting the Distributed Wind Energy Association's Permitting and Zoning Resource Center.

In addition to zoning issues, your neighbors might object to a wind turbine that blocks their view, or they might be concerned about the sound it produces. Most zoning and aesthetic concerns can be addressed by supplying objective data. For example, a typical 2-kilowatt wind turbine operates at a noise level of approximately 55 dB 50 feet away from the hub of the turbine.[4] At that level, the sound of the wind turbine can be picked out of surrounding noise if a conscious effort is made to hear it.


  1.  "U.S. Department of Energy. Is a Small Wind Energy System Right for You?"
  2.  "National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (2015). Small Wind Site Assessment Guidelines"
  3.  "American Solar Energy Society, Small Wind Division Webinar. Overview: Zoning for Small Wind Turbines"
  4.  "American Planning Association. (2011). Planning for Wind Energy"