Getting Residential Wind Turbine Approval

A wind turbine for our new workshop and guest apartment is the second residential wind project to be approved by the Northumberland County government.

When we powered our house with 48 solar panels, nobody much cared (except for one neighbor, who thought they were ugly – my wife Bette told him to look the other way when he drove by). The path to an off-grid turbine-powered structure had many more twists.

In Northumberland County, wind turbines are treated as conditional use in all zoning districts but R-3 (residential restricted), where it isn’t allowed at all. Our building site – 22 acres of woods about ½ mile west of our house – is zoned A-1 (agricultural).

In mid-August of 2016, we submitted our application to the county and sent an information package to all the adjacent property owners. We also sent an email out to neighbors to let them know about our plans (with lots of links to specs and relevant research on noise, risks to birds, and effects on property values). We invited everyone to call or email with questions and comments.

We started our research into wind turbines shortly after we bought the woods in December of 2015, so we felt that we had a solid foundation for our plan. We settled on a smaller turbine – a 1 kW Bergey with an 8’3” rotor diameter – because the workshop and apartment would not be occupied full time and we designed the structure to be energy efficient. And a smaller turbine would spin at lower wind speeds (Bette ran a recording anemometer for six months; it showed an average wind speed of 10 MPH).

To minimize demand, we specified high R-value structural insulated panels (SIPs) for the walls and roof, high-SEER mini-split heat pumps for cooling, and wood stoves for heat. If it turned out that our planned occasional use required more electricity than we expected, we could add batteries.

Before we applied for the turbine permit, we had never been to a board of supervisors hearing. Lynton Land introduced us to other NAPS members who gave us good advice for working with the board.

Bette knew our district’s supervisor, Tommy Tomlin, from her time on the Dividing Creek Association board. I invited him to walk our property with me so I could describe our project. We visited Judy and Gordon Burgess to see the first residential wind turbine in the county. They referred us to a long-time neighbor, who told us that she had no problems with a turbine in the neighborhood. I met with Luttrell Tadlock and asked him how the meetings typically progressed, an