Two small wind turbines attached to the roof of a small apartment building

Small wind turbines are a great addition to many homes, whether you experience frequent outages, want to save on electricity bills, or simply want to reduce your carbon footprint.

Harnessing wind energy for electricity is a logical upgrade for some locations, if not a necessity. There’s a reason 9.2% of electricity in the United States comes from wind turbines.

However, you’ll have to go through certain processes before installing one.

Keep reading this article if you are interested in getting a small wind turbine for your home, and are curious about the permitting requirements.

Do You Need a Permit for a Small Home Wind Turbine?

You must get a permit from your local government to install a small home wind turbine. The requirements and process will depend on the area.

Some places may even require a hearing, which can lengthen the process. Others may also limit the height of the turbine.

Permit Needs for Small Wind Turbines

Before installing a wind turbine, there are two terms you would need to be familiar with: zoning and permitting.

Permitting is the process of getting a permit, but the permit you need will depend on the zoning.

Zoning refers to the area and its local regulations regarding whether small wind turbines are allowed or not. Therefore, you should check whether there are zoning issues that may affect your project.

Two workers stand under a small wind turbine and check it's power output

The kind of permit and process you’ll go through will depend on the local regulations and the turbine’s size, capacity, and other specifics.

How To Get a Permit for Your Small Home Wind Turbine

Many countries and their local governments have respective regulations that affect solar, wind, and other energy projects. These policies may pertain to aesthetics, community impact, wildlife, etc.

The permitting process will depend on your location and its regulations.

Some places may have simple procedures for small wind turbines. However, others may be more complicated and need a hearing, especially if the turbine exceeds the maximum size.

Permits for Small Wind Turbines in the United States

In the U.S., you will have to consult local entities—either a building inspector, the community planning board, the board of supervisors, or other people in the local authority.

They will know best whether your area allows or restricts small wind turbines, as well as the requirements for its building permit.

Besides the local government, you also have to consider the immediate neighborhood.

For example, your neighbors may raise concerns when installing a wind turbine, which must be resolved before the installation.

The most common concerns surrounding small wind turbines in the United States are the noise levels and the height or size of the turbine.

Many local or state zoning regulations limit the turbine’s height to only 35 feet (10.7 meters). If your turbine has to be taller, it may require additional documents or a hearing to be approved.

As for the noise levels, the U.S. Department of Energy assures that most micro or small wind turbines produce noise that can only be heard if there’s a conscious effort to listen for it. Therefore, it won’t disturb anyone.

You can also consult the Distributed Wind Energy Association or the Clean Energy States Alliance for information regarding permits and zoning regulations in the U.S.

Permit for Small Home Wind Turbines in Other Countries  

Closeup on a building permit application for a mini-split installation

A more or less similar process occurs in other countries—that is, you need to consult the local government regarding its policies affecting wind turbine projects.

In Ontario, Canada, a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) is needed for wind turbines with a capacity of more than three kilowatts. Getting an REA is faster if the turbine’s capacity is less than 50 kilowatts.

Aside from REA, you must also pass an inspection from the Electrical Safety Authority. The local electricity distributor may also have additional requirements.

In the UK, a permit or planning permission wouldn’t be necessary if certain limits aren’t exceeded. For instance, the turbine must not be taller than 36.4 feet (11.1 meters).

However, if that and other conditions aren’t met, you must seek planning permission. You may communicate to your Local Planning Authority regarding the requirements.

Tips for a Smooth Permitting Process

As we’ve discussed, navigating the permitting process for a small wind turbine can be a complex task.

To help streamline the journey toward obtaining the necessary approvals, consider the following tips:

Research Local Regulations

Before diving into the permitting process, conduct thorough research on your local zoning and land use regulations. 

Different areas may have specific rules regarding the height, noise levels, and setback requirements for small wind turbines.

Understanding these regulations from the outset will save you time and potential complications later on.

Engage With Local Authorities Early

Initiate communication with local authorities as early as possible. 

Consult with your local planning department, building department, and any other relevant regulatory bodies. Discuss your project and seek guidance on specific requirements and procedures.

Establishing an open line of communication early can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure you’re on the right track.

Prepare a Comprehensive Application

Compile a detailed and comprehensive permit application. Include all necessary documents, such as site plans, structural engineering reports, and technical specifications.

Clearly articulate how your small wind turbine project complies with local regulations.

A well-prepared application can expedite the review process and demonstrate your commitment to adhering to guidelines.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, other details to include in the application are:

  • Visual impact
  • Sound level
  • TV/radio interference
  • Ice shedding

Professional Consultation

Consider seeking professional assistance to navigate the permitting process. 

Engaging with experts, such as environmental consultants or permit expeditors, can provide valuable insights and increase the likelihood of a successful permit application. 

Their experience will help you anticipate challenges and ensure compliance with all requirements.

Be Patient and Flexible

The permitting process may take time, and adjustments to your plans might be necessary. 

Therefore, you should be patient and flexible throughout the process.

Remember to respond promptly to any requests or concerns raised by regulatory authorities, and be willing to make modifications to address their feedback.

What Are Small Wind Turbines? 

In the simplest sense, wind turbines are the modern versions of windmills.

Homeowners can use them to produce electricity or mechanical energy. They appear as tall, white fans and vary in size, amount of energy produced, and tower type.

Small wind turbines have a capacity of less than or equal to 100 kilowatts. These turbines are often used to produce electricity for private homes through a distributed wind system. As a result, they help reduce bills or provide electricity for off-grid areas.

In a distributed wind system, the turbine is hooked to the distribution system of an electric distributor.

You can watch this animation from the U.S. Department of Energy YouTube channel to see how the system works:

Screenshot of an animation from the US Department of Energy demonstrating how distributed energy works with a small wind turbine
Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy

Advantages of a Small Home Wind Turbine

People have a wind turbine installed either because it’s necessary (they live off-grid) or they want to offset costs. Either way, there are other benefits besides reduced bills.

The advantages of a small home wind turbine include:

  • A source of energy for remote areas – a wind turbine may be the only stable electricity source for an off-grid area. It is also great for remote places where electric distributors may charge extra.
  • Reduce electric costs – wind energy can reduce your current bills by around 50% to 90%. However, optimizing your home first to maximize the reduction would be best. You can do that by using LED lights and energy-saving appliances.
  • A reliable source of energy – the more consistent the winds are in your area, the more reliable wind energy is. Turbine maintenance is also pretty minimal, which helps make it stable.
  • Clean energy – getting a wind turbine is a way for you to use clean energy and contribute to the Earth’s recovery.

Can You Have Your Own Wind Turbine?

You might think wind turbines are limited to giant ones in large wind farms. However, private homes and establishments can also install turbines.

Therefore, you can have your own small wind turbine to supply energy for your home, farm, or area.

After considering its initial costs and processes, you must decide if it’s a worthwhile investment. Location, prices, return on investment, and local policies are some factors you need to consider.

A wind turbine is a significant project that entails expenses and effort. So, make sure that installing one is worth it.

Things To Consider Before Getting a Small Home Wind Turbine

As said, a wind turbine, even a small one, is a big decision to make, and homeowners must consider many factors. So let’s go over them.

  • Location – a small wind turbine is practical for off-grid locations or areas not reached by electric distributors. Interested people must also have enough space—around one acre (~4046 sq m or 43560 sq ft).

    Naturally, wind turbines have to be allowed in your location. Some places, such as conservation areas, may not allow it.
  • Windiness – a wind turbine is best for people living in windy areas. However, it may not be practical if your home does not have consistent and strong winds.
  • Turbine height – the higher the turbine, the stronger the winds, and the more kilowatts of electricity produced. However, you need to ensure that your planned turbine’s height is not restricted in your area and that you are up for the costs of building a more prominent tower.
The Nature Power Wind Turbine Generator in front of a lodge in the Alps with mountain peaks in back
  • Costs – most of the expenses for a wind turbine are spent on installation. Maintenance is relatively minimal compared to that. In 2019, the price for installing small wind turbines was $8,300 per kilowatt. However, you may qualify for government incentives depending on your area and turbine.
  • High electric bills – even if you don’t live off-grid, a wind turbine is a great way to cut back on high electric bills. You can have it connected to your electric distributor so it can offset some, if not all, of your electric costs.
  • Return-on-investment takes time – installing a wind turbine can make a significant dent in your pocket at the start, and it will take time before you can recover that amount. Therefore, you must regard this project as long-term with no immediate benefits.

Many companies offer wind turbine installations, and they may do so as a package. Assess each company carefully.

It may be best to canvas for wind energy providers first and see which offers the best packages, cost-wise and service-wise.

Final Thoughts 

Wind energy is a reliable, clean, and cheap electric source, especially if you consider it in the long term. It can cost merely two to four cents per kilowatt-hour.

However, before you can install a small wind turbine, you must ensure there are no zoning and permitting issues.

You must also weigh factors such as location and costs before making a final decision.

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