Last Updated December 1, 2014
Solar/Wind Permitting Standards
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies:
NOTE: This model ordinance was designed to provide guidance to local governments that wish to develop their own siting rules for wind turbines. While it was developed as part of a cooperative effort involving several state agencies, the model itself has no legal or regulatory authority.
In 2006, Pennsylvania developed a model local ordinance for wind energy facilities through a collaborative effort involving several state departments and stakeholder groups. The purpose of the model is to provide local governments with a general template for permitting wind energy facilities that they may change and adapt to fit their own needs. The initial model ordinance was completed in the spring of 2006 and updated later the same year. The document covers the three ways in which local governments may regulate land use within their borders: zoning ordinances; subdivision and land development ordinances (SLDO); and inherent municipal "police" powers for protecting public welfare.
The model zoning ordinance simply defines what constitutes a wind energy facility, then proceeds with example language defining appropriate zones for wind energy as a permitted or conditional use. The SLDO portion of the model ordinance provides a comprehensive set of standards for the construction, operation, and decommissioning of a wind energy facility. The model language is directed at commercial wind energy facilities as opposed to stand-alone systems constructed primarily for residential or farm use. It includes provisions for several wind facility characteristics, including:
Design and Installation: This category of standards includes general criteria related to safety and construction codes as well as visual appearance (i.e., color, lighting advertising) of the facility and associated support infrastructure (e.g., power lines).
Setbacks: This section defines the minimum required distance between wind turbines and other structures. The model language includes setbacks of 1.1 times the total height (base to tip of blade) from the nearest occupied building, 5 times the hub height to the nearest occupied building of a non-participating landowner, 1.1 times the total height to the nearest property line, and 1.1 times the total height from the nearest public road. A separate section addresses waivers to setbacks.
Public Disturbances: This broad term includes several sections relating to possible adverse effects of wind farm operation. Among the possibilities addressed in the ordinance are road damages and repair liability; interference with television, radio, telephone and similar signals; shadow flicker; and noise. The section on noise suggests 55 decibels (dBa) as the upper limit and describes appropriate measurement methods.
Additional sections of the model ordinance address local emergency services, insurance requirements, facility decommissioning, site restoration, abandonment, and dispute resolution. The "police" power model covers the same topics as the model SLDO in a slightly different format.