New sample zoning for wind energy systems

An updated wind energy zoning resource is available for local units of governments in Michigan.

A wind turbine in a field.
Photo by Mary Reilly

Sample Zoning for Wind Energy Systems is a resource for communities that are amending a zoning ordinance to include wind energy systems (WES) for the first time or amending existing regulation. This is an update to Michigan State University Extension's previously available Sample Zoning for Wind Energy Systems, originally published in 2008 and revised in 2017.

Michigan’s entry into wind energy electrical production started in 1996 with a single commercial wind turbine installed in Traverse City. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Michigan Profile, approximately 2000 megawatts (MW) are now generated annually by wind energy in Michigan. This places the state 15th among all wind-power electricity generating states. Well over half (1300+ MW) of the electricity generated by wind energy in Michigan comes from the Thumb region.

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Zoning for Renewable Energy Database indicates that less than half of all Michigan communities have adopted wind energy zoning ordinances (753 out of 1773 total units of government). This leaves the impression that many local units of government may still need to consider how wind energy fits into broader renewable energy and land use conversations.

Ongoing research, new court cases, and technological advances relating to wind energy systems invite periodic revision to this sample zoning document. The updated 2020 resource includes:

  • New court cases specific to wind energy (federal and state)
  • Updated research on policy and process
  • Revised sample zoning amendment language
  • Comparison of Michigan zoning ordinances with other Midwestern states
  • New appendices on sound, shadow flicker, Federal Aviation Administration lighting, and Michigan based WES research
  • and more…

While some communities may choose to model zoning on neighboring communities’ ordinance, it is beneficial to consider recent research, experiences, standards, and regulations in a broad context. This document refers to wind energy system regulations and research from Michigan, other states, Canada, and Europe. It is meant to be a starting point for dialogue to the zoning amendment process.

Communities can (and should) modify the sample zoning language in this resource to develop regulation that fits their unique characteristics and is tied to the goals and policies in their Master Plan. Renewable energy, including wind, continues to expand in Michigan. Is your community ready?

Additional resources from MSU Extension are available on wind and solar planning and zoning in Michigan. Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your land use educator for more information.

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