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Zoning for Small Wind Turbines:
When the Turbine Quits
By MICK SAGRILLO
Mick Sagrillo, a small-wind consultant, owns
Sagrillo Power & Light
and is wind energy
specialist for Focus on
program. Research for
this article was funded
in part through
Wisconsin’s Focus on
Energy Program. Contact him at msagrillo@
This series of columns has been exploring considerations that should be included in a zoning ordinance
for small wind turbines. In this edition, we’ll address
the owner’s responsibility to keep the turbine operating,
and the municipality’s recourse if that doesn’t happen.
Unlike solar photovoltaic (PV) or water-heating systems, wind is a dynamic technology — it is not static, but
moves. And unlike PV or solar water, wind turbines are far
less forgiving in regard to the attention they require. It’s not
obvious that a non-functional solar system is in a state of
disrepair. High atop a tower and spinning whenever the
wind blows, it’s hard to hide a non-operating wind turbine.
Wind turbines are not easy to get to, as they are usually
mounted on towers that range from 80 to 120 feet ( 27 to
40 yards), sometimes higher. Murphy’s Law dictates that
things will go wrong at the least opportune time. In the case
of a wind turbine, this will inevitably happen when neither
you nor anyone else wants to climb the tower. A crisp January day, for example, when it is - 30˚F with a blustery wind.
The prudent owner makes sure that the turbine is
in prime operating condition
before the icy jaws of winter snap shut. This entails a
service call in the fall, with a
thorough inspection and routine maintenance, plus any required repairs. If time allows,
it would also be a good idea to
duplicate these efforts in the
spring, after the winter winds
have abated but before the
brutal summer thunderstorm
If, for some reason, the
wind turbine becomes non-functional between maintenance visits, the owner should
attend to the repair as soon as
the weather allows and parts
can be purchased. Unfortunately, sometimes the owner
procrastinates. It takes determination to climb 120 feet
up a tower to find out what’s
wrong, followed by climbing down to gather tools and
Without regular maintenance, wind turbines can become
parts, and climbing up again,
hauling tools and parts.
48 May 2009 SOLAR TODAY
Worse yet, the owner simply loses interest in the system.
If this happens, the wind turbine will eventually develop
leprosy. It will lose bits and pieces over time as entropy and
rust set in. At this point, the system becomes a neighborhood eyesore and a potential hazard. Neighbors should not
have to look at a derelict wind turbine.
Most zoning ordinances have language dealing with nuisances or junk lying around. In this case, the zoning administration can initiate measures identified in the ordinance
that address the removal of nuisance structures.
It’s hard to hide a
non-operating wind turbine.
Fix it or take it down.
However, I’d suggest that language be specifically added
to a permitted use ordinance or conditional use permit for
small wind turbines. A simple stipulation that any inoperative wind system must be repaired in a reasonable amount
of time, weather permitting, should suffice — with a specific
time frame. A reasonable window is 12 months. Any system
inoperable beyond that time should be deemed inoperable
and be slated for decommissioning. Notice of such action
should be sent to the owner, with a 30-day response period
to inform the zoning administrator what the owner decides
to do with the system — repair it or take it down. Once
this decision is conveyed to the zoning authority, anywhere
from three to six months should be allowed to carry out the
repairs or de-installation.
Most zoning ordinances have language to initiate cleanup of nuisances should the owner fail to comply. The zoning authority has the right to have the derelict equipment
removed with the full cost for decommissioning borne by
the owner. This is usually accompanied by language that
the owner will be billed for such services, or a lien might be
placed on the property.
It is important to make sure that the wind turbine is removed from the tower. The turbine is the part of the system that will deteriorate over time. The tower, on the other
hand, is capable of standing for decades. If the owner has an
alternate use for the tower, this request should be considered by the zoning authority.
The best resolution for all parties is to keep the turbine