Residential Zoning & Municipal Governments: Blocking Green Energy Adoption

An interesting article was published earlier this month in the Star Tribune. Focused on efforts local to suburbs in Minnesota, the article discussed how some plans to erect green energy structures have been foiled – by zoning laws.

The article’s author, Laurie Blake, first discusses Larry McGough’s difficult position…

Larry McGough’s desire to fit a solar panel on his boat lift and a horizontal wind turbine on his house has Maple Grove considering changes to its zoning code.

Numerous inquiries such as McGough’s — regarding the installation of wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling — have prompted Maple Grove to clarify codes regulating green energy systems, said City Planner Peter Vickerman. “With tax credits that help offset the cost of such systems and an increase in the general concern about impacts on the environment, it seems likely that the market demand for such systems will only increase in the future,” Vickerman said.


McGough, who in 2003 installed underground geothermal heating and cooling for his house on Eagle Lake, supports the city’s updating of its zoning codes for alternative energy.

He would like to capture north winds off the lake to generate electricity and reduce his electric bill.

“I have been asking for clarification on the wind turbine issue for about a year now,” McGough said.

“I am looking at the house-mounted type with no blade. The current ordinance only addresses free-standing towers.”

The city also lacks codes to address his installation of a solar panel on his boat lift. His lift battery kept dying, so he put on a solar panel to charge the lift.

In response, the city is considering giving approval to solar panels under two square feet in size, with no review.

But in general, the Planning Commission may move cautiously on the changes. Chairman Larry Colson has proposed that the city initially require each new installation to have a conditional use permit that would be reviewed by the commission.

“People will not necessarily know we are considering this,” Colson said. “The time they get excited about it is when their neighbor puts one up.” It will be easier to finalize policies once there’s feedback, he said.

The Failure of Local Government?
It is my opinion that many local governments are failing to keep up with the times.

When Federal Stimulus packages applaud the adoption of being environmentally aware – how can local governments ignore or in some cases prevent citizens from constructing green energy equipment on their own land?

I say this with a healthy dose of obvious reasoning. I wouldn’t expect a homeowner to erect wind turbines so large that it becomes an eye sore for neighbors. Nor would it make sense to build equipment that if gone unrestricted, would pose a danger to neighbors and children.

However – many DIY projects exist today that allow home owners to build or place small, supplemental green energy solutions on their home or on their property. The key? It is their property and their choice.

In most areas now, major energy suppliers are even allowing alternative energy producers to sell excess energy out to their grid – allowing others to fully utilize all of the green energy produced.

What Can I Do to Help?
The easiest way for any of us to get involved and help the situation is to reach out to community leaders and let them know it’s an important issue. Don’t overlook your neighbors, either. Many neighborhood and community leaders can prepare a compelling case for city or town officials to hear. Don’t stop at a municipal level either! Escalate your desire for green energy adoption by speaking with representatives, state leaders and even national leaders if need be. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets grease – and we’re talking about the production of affordable green energy here.

What do you, our readers think about this ongoing issue? Weigh in using the comments below and let your voice be heard!

Categorized | Energy, Homes & Buildings, Wind
One Response to “Residential Zoning & Municipal Governments: Blocking Green Energy Adoption”
  1. grenner says:

    I’m a member of our local zoning board researching information about wind turbines. Thanks for the information. It’s interesting to see some differing perspectives.

    In the research I’ve been doing so far most of the concern seems to center on safety, appearance and nuisance issues related to turbines. The ordinances I’ve seen thus far seem geared toward being more restrictive so that residents are basically forced to get a conditional use permit. While that’s pretty annoying to the individual trying to install a turbine, it does also force them to consider the effect on their neighbors.

    My take is that it’s a big enough investment for a homeowner to install a wind turbine that they should be doing the research and planning to make sure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck and not just throwing up a turbine just because. It’s true that the homeowner should be able to do what works for them on their little slice of heaven he/she should also be cognizant of the effect on neighbors and the community.


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