Even with a great wind resource and good wind turbine siting, wind energy projects are heavily dependent on how the community regulates wind power. The impact and benefits a wind energy project has for a community, is dependent on permitting and taxes. Moreover, each community has different thoughts about creating regulations and issuing permits. Because these requirements have such an impact on wind projects, it is important that developers know about them early on and work to be consistent with those requirements to avoid delays later in development. Because National Wind’s projects are community-owned, they have strong support and low rates of opposition. Local governments are more likely to approve wind projects with high levels of community support, making the permitting process easier to navigate.

Permitting authorities can be on the local, state, and federal level. These laws specifically address the siting of wind turbines and determine how the broader community can benefit from the project. In many states, the local planning commission, zoning board, or city council is the primary permitting jurisdiction. Local permitting may require developers to obtain a grading or building permit to assure they will comply with structural, mechanical, and electrical codes. Other times, state agencies will take the responsibility of permitting wind projects, and state law may supersede local permits. If not, developers may need to obtain both local and state permits.

Specific states of interest to National Wind have differing permitting and zoning policies. North Dakota and Montana have no specific state governing authorities for these policies, while Minnesota has a statewide policy for permitting commercial-scale wind projects. Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission has permitting authority for systems over 25 megawatts, while smaller systems are generally left to local jurisdiction. South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission has authority over all wind projects, and in Iowa, local zoning boards have authority over all wind projects.

When federal agencies serve as the permitting authority, the regulations are very specific to the wind project. For example, if a project poses harmful effects on wildlife habitat or species, permitting will most likely involve consultation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. When a turbine over 200 feet tall is sited near an airport, the Federal Aviation Administration will need to approve the project. Thus, regulations and authority decisions will vary based on the particulars of the wind project.

Well-planned projects will avoid permitting conflicts on local, state, and federal levels. As wind energy continues to grow in the U.S., permitting issues can arise on any level and developers will need to be aware of regulations before beginning a project. Developers must also work to promote general public involvement to ensure a timely permit decision.