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Incentives/Policies for Renewables & Efficiency

Printable Version
Model As-of Right Zoning Ordinance or Bylaw: Allowing Use of Wind Energy Facilities   

Last DSIRE Review: 07/22/2013
Program Overview:
State: Massachusetts
Incentive Type: Solar/Wind Permitting Standards
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies: Wind
Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Industrial, Residential, Nonprofit, Schools, Local Government, State Government, Fed. Government, Agricultural, Institutional
Web Site:

Note: This model ordinance was designed to provide guidance to local governments seeking to develop their own siting rules for wind turbines. While it was developed as part of a cooperative effort involving several state agencies, the model itself has no legal or regulatory authority.

In 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) issued a model ordinance or by-law that may be modified and adopted, as necessary, by local governments that want to promote wind-energy development. In 2009, DOER and EOEEA amended the model ordinance to cover both small and large wind developments and to incorporate “as-of-right siting,”* that basically means as long as developments follow the local, state, and federal laws, they are allowed. Additional adjustments were made in June 2011 to clarify set-back issues.

The model applies to all land-based utility-scale and on-site wind facilities. The model “as-of-right” siting must allow for wind energy facilities with at least one turbine of 600 kW or more. An essential part of “as-of-right” siting is the establishment of designated locations. Once the location(s) is (are) designated within a local jurisdiction, a wind development may proceed without the need for any special permits. A standard building permit and compliance with local zoning bylaws would be required.

The state model includes the following provisions:

  • Compliance with Laws, Ordinances and Regulations. Construction and operation of proposed wind facilities must be consistent with all applicable local, state and federal requirements, including but not limited to all applicable safety, construction, environmental, electrical, communications and aviation requirements.
  • Building Permit and Inspection. All wind energy systems must first obtain a building permit and work must then commence within 6 months (per state building code laws), extensions may be requested and granted multiple times.
  • Fees. The fee required for a building permit.
  • Height. Wind facilities should not exceed 450 feet above the current grade of the land. (Some exceptions apply.)
  • Setbacks. Wind turbines must be set back a distance equal to 3 times the height of the turbine from the nearest existing residential or commercial structure, and 1.5 times the height of the turbine from the nearest property line, other public ways, buildings, critical infrastructure. 
  • Color and Finish. Shall comply with the Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements.
  • Noise. The wind-energy facility and associated equipment must conform to the provisions of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s noise regulations (310 CMR 7.10).
  • Site Plan Review. All wind projects must go through a Site Plan Review prior to any construction (or modification). This review is strictly to verify that the project complies with the zoning by-law.

The state model also includes provisions regarding wind-energy facility removal requirements, abandonment, project financial surety, liability insurance, lighting and signage. The state model lists documents required for the site plan review, including a location map, a site plan, visualizations, landscape plans, operation and maintenance plans, and all relevant compliance documents (such as building permits and approvals).


*As-of-right siting is defined in the model ordinance as "development may proceed without the need for a special permit, variance, amendment, waiver, or other discretionary approval. As-of-right development may be subject to non-discretionary site plan review to determine conformance with local zoning bylaws as well as state and federal law. As-of-right development projects that are consistent with zoning bylaws and with state and federal law cannot be prohibited."

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Disclaimer: The information presented on the DSIRE web site provides an unofficial overview of financial incentives and other policies. It does not constitute professional tax advice or other professional financial guidance, and it should not be used as the only source of information when making purchasing decisions, investment decisions or tax decisions, or when executing other binding agreements. Please refer to the individual contact provided below each summary to verify that a specific financial incentive or other policy applies to your project.

While the DSIRE staff strives to provide the best information possible, the DSIRE staff, the N.C. Solar Center, N.C. State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. make no representations or warranties, either express or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability or suitability of the information. The DSIRE staff, the N.C. Solar Center, N.C. State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. disclaim all liability of any kind arising out of your use or misuse of the information contained or referenced on DSIRE Web pages.

Copyright 2014 - 2015 North Carolina State University, under NREL Subcontract No. XEU-0-99515-01. Permission granted only for personal or educational use, or for use by or on behalf of the U.S. government. North Carolina State University prohibits the unauthorized display, reproduction, sale, and/or distribution of all or portions of the content of the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) without prior, written consent.