Local and State Regulations on Wind Energy
One of the biggest concerns most people
have when considering wind energy is the impact that local and
state regulations may have in putting up a wind tower. Because
wind towers are electrical generation systems they will almost
certainly be subject to the electrical codes that your local
government (city or county) or in some instances your state government
has in place. However, nearly all wind turbines are designed to meet
all National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements and rarely does this
become a problem. However, some localities and counties have in place
zoning restrictions which could restrict you from putting up the wind
tower. Sometimes these regulations are driven by safety concerns
but in most cases adverse regulations have more to do with a desire by
parts of the community to protect the view. In this section we will
look at these regulatory issues and others.
The government’s principal concern is with the safety of the facility, so these code requirements emphasize proper wiring and installation, and the use of components that have been certified for fire and electrical safety by approved testing laboratories, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Most local electrical codes requirements are based on the National Electrical Code (NEC), which is published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). As of 1999, the latest version of the NEC did not have any sections specific to the installation of wind energy facilities, so wind energy installations are governed by the generic provisions of the NEC.
If your wind turbine is connected to the local utility grid so that any of the power produced by your wind turbine is delivered to the grid, then your utility also has legitimate concerns about safety and power quality that need to be addressed. The utility’s principal concern is that your wind turbine automatically stops delivering any electricity to the its power lines during an outage. Otherwise line workers and the public, thinking that the line is "dead," might not take normal precautions and might be hurt or even killed by the power from your facility.
Another concern among utilities is that the power from your facility synchronize properly with the utility grid, and that it match the utility’s own power in terms of voltage, frequency, and power quality.
A few years ago, some state governments started developing new standardized interconnection requirements for small renewable generating facilities (including wind turbines). In most cases the new requirements have been based on consensus-based standards and testing procedures developed by independent third-party authorities, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Utilities are not allowed to impose whatever requirements they want. Both private, or "investor-owned", utilities and publicly-owned utilities are required under federal law (PURPA, 1978) to allow customer-owned generating facilities to interconnect with their system. Interconnection standards for "investor owned" utilities are established by state utility regulatory authorities, while standards for publicly-owned utilities are established by the governing board of the utility. In either case, federal regulations specify that the interconnection requirements must be "reasonable" and must "specify the need for such standards on the basis of system safety and reliability." This means that interconnection requirements cannot be arbitrary, and cannot be designed to protect any interest other than system safety and reliability.
In addition to these federal requirements, interconnection standards are often subject to state laws. Some states
such as California have laws requiring small wind systems to comply with all applicable IEEE and UL standards but also limiting utilities from imposing additional requirements on systems that meet these standards.
Finding Out the Regulations in Your Area
Finding out what requirements apply in your location is not always easy, so be prepared to spend some time on the phone talking to the appropriate people. First, check the
American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) web site for additional information on interconnection requirements. AWEA is in the process of developing a state-by-state summary of requirements and other options for interconnecting wind energy systems. You may also want to check the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s web site, at www.irecusa.org , for their information on "Connecting to the Grid."
After checking on available resources, contact your local utility and inform them of your plans, including the size (kW capacity) of the wind turbine. Tell them you want to interconnect your wind turbine to the utility grid – as you are entitled to do under federal and state law. Ask them to send you any applicable forms and requirements. Be sure to ask if they have simplified requirements for small-scale systems. Finally, ask them if the state offers ‘net metering’ for wind energy facilities, and if so whether your wind turbine qualifies.
Challenging Restrictions Against Wind Energy
If you believe unfair restrictions have been placed upon you don't
worry. You are not without legal recourse. First, ask the utility (or the municipality) representative with whom you’ve been working for assistance in working through the problem. If they cooperate, this will be the quickest and easiest solution. If you don’t feel that your concerns are being fairly addressed, ask to speak with a supervisor or other more senior representative, and politely express your concerns to them. If you still aren’t satisfied, you probably can appeal the issue to your state’s utility regulatory agency.
In talking to the utility or challenging the utility’s requirements, you may want to seek the support of your wind system vendor.
Most of the experienced vendors are used to dealing with local
regulatory challenges and will usually have good suggestions as to how
to get around the local hurdles. At minimum, most can point to
other installations they have done that are similar to your and
therefore set a precedent. In many parts of the country there are
local environmental advocacy groups that might be willing and able to intervene on behalf of customers supporting renewable energy.
Whenever you can work with experienced, reputable equipment vendors and systems installers. It also helps to work with someone who has installed wind energy equipment in your region and who knows the local rules and requirements. If you’re still encountering difficulties, contact AWEA.