In 2006, Watauga County adopted a wind ordinance to regulate the use of wind-energy systems in the county and to describe the conditions by which a permit for installing such a system may be obtained. This policy was adopted in the context of an on-going debate over the legal interpretation of the 1983 Ridge Protection Act.
For the purposes of this ordinance, wind-energy systems are classified as “large” if they consist of one or more turbines with a rated generating capacity of more than 20 kilowatts (kW) and “small” if a project consists of a single turbine rated at less than 20 kW.* A site permit is required to establish, place, operate, maintain, expand or enlarge a wind-energy system.
Height Requirements: The total height of a wind turbine is determined by the height above grade to the tip of the turbine blade as it reaches its highest point of rotation. The height limit for small wind turbines is 135 feet. Large systems may be taller if approved by the county planning board.
Visual Appearance: Towers and rotor blades must maintain a galvanized finish or be painted so as to conform to their surroundings and reduce visual obtrusiveness. Wind-energy systems must also remain free from signage, advertising, flags, streamers, and other decorative items.
Setbacks: The ordinance requires that the base of the wind turbine must not be closer to surrounding property lines than its height unless a professional engineer (registered in North Carolina) certifies that the fall zone of the turbine will be within the proposed setback area. Wind-energy systems must also be set back from inhabited structures on adjacent property at least 1.5 times the height of the turbine.
Building Permit Requirements: A building permit shall be required and building permit applications for small wind energy systems shall be accompanied by standard drawings of the wind turbine structure, including the tower, base, and footings. An engineering analysis of the tower, certified by a licensed professional engineer. This includes standards for ice/wind loading. This analysis may be supplied by the manufacturer. Wet stamps shall not be required.
Impact Analysis, Mitigation, and Planning: Applications for site permits for large wind-energy projects must include the following: building and electrical permits; site and design information; construction, operation, maintenance and insurance information; decommissioning information; a comprehensive impact analysis and all other relevant permits and approvals. All applicants must also undergo a public hearing so that the Watauga County planning board may receive comments and other information pertinent to the application.
* Multiple small wind-energy systems located on farms, as defined in the Watauga County High Impact Land Use Ordinance, are considered to be separate small wind-energy systems even if the aggregate rated capacity exceeds 20 kW, provided that the primary intent is to generate power to reduce on-site consumption.