Permitting Regime for Small Wind Turbines Under Discussion

Small wind turbines are a fast growing market, but the existing permitting regime provides some challenges. It mainly follows normal building permit rules.  However, state and regional authorities are sometimes struggling how to deal with small wind turbines permits. 

Schleswig-Holstein recently passed its decree (Erlass) regarding the installation of small wind turbines (Kleinwindkraftanlagen-Erlass). The Small Wind Turbine Decree of 2 February 2010 defines small wind turbines (Kleinwindkraftanlagen) as wind wind turbines with a total height of up to 30 meters. Schleswig-Holstein is located in the north of Germany. The state is the centre of Germany’s wind industry.

Construction permits for small wind turbines are issued under state law, pursuant to the applicable state building regulations. However, the states (and their building authorities) have to observe certain federally regulated aspects, e.g. the federal planning law (Bauplanungsrecht). The purpose of the Small Wind Turbine Decree in Schleswig-Holstein is to explain and interpret the federal planning law, so as to give the competent building authorities more legal and planning certainty.

The Federal Association for Small Wind Turbines (Bundesverband Kleinwindanlagen – BVKW) welcomed the decree. “It is our impression that building authorities in many areas of Schlewig-Holstein do not know how to process applications for construction permits for small wind turbines. The new decree is a milestone for the business sector, since it provides a clear guideline for processing applications”, BVKW said. It would welcome similar decrees in other states, it said.

By contrast, the German WindEnergy Association (BWE) criticized the decree as yet another bureaucratic obstacle. Instead of promoting the new market of small wind turbines, the decree impedes it. BWE would rather Schleswig-Holstein to have the courage to approve the first installations, so that experience can be gained. Thereafter criteria for the installation for small wind turbines could be set up, the association said. The interior ministry rejected the criticism, saying the new decree would help to speed up the approval process.

Another layer of complexity can be added by local zoning rules that can be established by the municipalities. Municipalities can for example regulate certain esthetic requirements in zoning plans.

The regional newspaper Rheinische Post from Düsseldorf recently reported that the city of Ratingen (North Rhine-Westphalia) wants to restrict small wind turbines that are higher than the roof ridge as well as those located on the side of the building facing the street.  The city of Ratingen is planning on introducing such rules in their local zoning plans (Bebauungsplan). The paper mentioned that the state government had deplored last year that municipalities were struggling with the approval for small wind turbines. The Minister for Building was quoted as saying “approval procedures differed from municipality to municipality”. North Rhine-Westphalia does not have a special decree for small wind turbines. Its more general Wind Turbine Decree (Windkraftanlagenerlass) of 21 October 2005 also contains provisions for smaller wind turbines (up to 50 meters).

It remains to be seen whether the recent efforts to provide additional guidelines through new state decrees will improve legal certainty, and what positions muncipalities will take in their zoning plans.

Sources: and Rheinische Post

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