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The Permitting Process: General Comments

After the wind resource and project site have been determined and the community outreach effort has been started, the next step is to apply for permits for the wind turbine system. The primary permits needed to construct most community–scale wind power projects will be the local permits: building, zoning, and/or conservation, as applicable to a specific site. Additionally, an application for the wind turbine project will need to be filed with the FAA and with the operators of the New England electrical grid. Depending on the site, other permits may come into play.

The exact number and type of required permits will vary with each project. In addition, siting reform legislation now being considered by the state may change some of the permitting which will be required in the future.

First and foremost, check whether your location has a wind turbine bylaw in place. The state of Massachusetts has a model bylaw for towns to consider if there is not one in place.

Following are some of the impact studies which may be required:

  • Wildlife, avian, endangered species
  • Wetlands
  • Visual impacts
  • Sound impacts
  • Archeological / historical
  • Transportation and safety

In addition, photo simulations are recommended by the permitting agencies and are helpful for the public. The Massachusetts Historical Commission may request photo simulations taken from historic resources, if it has properties within a few miles.

You will also need permits for the areas affected by the electrical cable/line and grid interconnection.

  • Project benefits: When writing applications, it is tempting to focus on mitigating harmful impacts. While this is essential, it is also relevant and helpful to quantify the benefits of your project (displacing pollutants, etc.), especially in light of the Commonwealth’s air quality goals and renewable portfolio standard.
  • Project science: Thorough investigation and characterization of the wind resource will provide good support for your permit application.
  • Installation: Understanding the wind turbine installation process will help you think about land requirements, e.g., for equipment staging. Including a description of the installation sequence and any necessary mitigation is helpful.
  • Public relations: Involve the neighbors and the public from the very beginning. Studies have shown that such involvement BEFORE exact turbine type and locations are decided usually leads to more acceptance. Work with local groups and understand the local political process. Allow plenty of time for public input and comment.