In the City of Minneapolis, it is impossible (search for "535.110") to build an electricity-generating wind turbine on any piece of land not zoned industrial. And even then, a turbine can't be over 35 feet tall.
In my opinion, this conflicts with the City’s Sustainability Indicators, especially the second, which calls for an aggressive increase in renewable energy use by 2015. According to the ongoing industrial land use study, Minneapolis will likely lose 30% of its industrial land over the next 20 years. These trends are incompatible.
I'm looking into possible solutions to this problem. Obviously, we can't let anyone go ahead and build a high power wind turbine in their back yard with no control - there are safety, noise and aesthetic issues to be addressed.
But there is no good reason that I can see for treating wind turbines differently from cell and ham radio towers and communication antennas. These are permitted (search for "535.470") in all zones in the city, with certain height restrictions and a sensible engineering review process. They can be mounted up to fifteen feet above the top of any existing structure, even more with a Conditional Use Permit.
And there are other sorts of wind turbines: small, building-mountable horizontal varieties and nontraditional “vertical axis” models. These smaller models are designed to more efficiently use variable and turbulent wind. Windpower generation technologies are rapidly improving, both in terms of reduced negative effects (noise, vibration, etc.) and in terms of efficiency. Urban settings, once considered useless for windpower generation, are an emerging growth area for these newer technologies. And according to the UK's Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, the possibilities are huge. This report states that if just 1% of residential properties and 1.5% of commercial properties were retrofitted with wind turbines, the UK could generate 1.7-5 TWh of electricity (enough to power over 500,000 average US homes), reducing carbon emissions by as much as 2.2 megatons annually!
I believe that the City should be doing everything we can to encourage residents, developers and businesses to increase the energy generation capacity of our urban environment. At the very least, we should not be setting up unnecessary obstacles.
For this reason, last Friday I moved to introduce subject matter regarding wind turbines, broadening and expanding their allowable and conditional uses. To see the subject matter introduction, look here (it's at the bottom of the agenda, under Motions, and it's item 7).