Legal Issues

Utility Interconnections
The majority of wind turbines being installed today are connected to electric utilities. This provides back-up power during calm periods to the residence or business using a wind turbine and allows the owner to sell surplus electricity to the power company. These connections are permitted under a Federal law called the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978. Electric utilities around the State have adopted standards to ensure that the power transferred into their system is of suitable quality, and to ensure the safety of the connection between their network and the wind turbines. They have also adopted “buy-back” rates for the surplus electricity. In Iowa, these standards and rates are subject to review by the Iowa Utilities Board. You should be aware, however, that the interconnection process can be complicated and time consuming.

Connection standards vary from utility to utility, so it is essential that you contact your local utility office for the standards that apply to you. Power companies in general want assurances that an interconnected wind system will not endanger utility personnel, distribution equipment, or customers. Furthermore, utilities also are concerned about the quality of power transferred to their power grid. The utility may require the customer to purchase one or more control and protection devices. This will add to the total cost of a wind system. Most utilities also require that a separate meter be installed to monitor surplus electricity. The wind turbine owner also may have to carry special liability insurance in case the wind turbine causes a problem or damage to the utility system.

Early in your own wind energy investigations, you should find out how your utility deals with wind turbine interconnections. The company should inform you about the costs and conditions involving interconnection, including its buy-back rate for surplus energy. The buy-back rate varies with utility and often from year to year. This information also will help you decide whether to opt for a stand-alone system.

Zoning Ordinances, Building Codes and Land Use
Most cities and towns have ordinances to ensure that structures and activities are safe, proper and compatible with existing or planned development. Few ordinances specifically pertain to wind systems. Most municipalities either use existing ordinances regarding structure heights or require that an exemption from an existing zoning ordinance (a variance) be obtained from the zoning board. Some towns, particularly those in rural areas, have few or no codes to restrict the use of a wind turbine. Most restrictions occur in populated areas where height, safety or aesthetics are issues. There are federal regulations about the height of structures near the approach path to runways at local airports. If you are within 10 miles of an airport, you need to check these regulations with the airport.

Municipal building codes often require that a building permit be obtained prior to any installation, and that the building inspector approve the completed installation. The local building inspector or town clerk can provide information on ordinances and codes. The landowner may want to obtain a title search of the deed to determine if any prior agreements exist that would prevent a wind turbine from being installed on the property.

Liability and Insurance
The wind turbine owner faces a liability if his or her property poses any threat to the general public. Although chances are remote, a wind turbine could throw a blade, or the tower could collapse onto neighboring property. In addition, because of its visibility, a wind turbine may attract unwanted visitors, especially children.

Many homeowner insurance policies can be extended to insure against a liability brought about by damage or injury caused by a wind turbine. The wind turbine itself can be protected by insurance coverage against damage as a result of fire, lightning, ice or theft. Because insurance coverage varies from company to company, you should check with your agent for specifics.

To minimize the likelihood of damage or injury (and possibly the cost for insurance), you should consider reserving a set-back distance of at least one tower height from property lines and structures, and building a safety fence or anti-climb device around the wind turbine tower. Keeping your wind equipment in top shape should prevent most problems.