Wind Energy Regulations & Studies

Large Wind. In June of 2007, the City adopted a Large Wind (Energy Conversion Facilities) Ordinance which allowed for wind energy turbines (minimum rotor diameter 20-ft, maximum height 265 ft) to be located in the City by Special Permit with certain provisions for height, buffers from abutting uses, and noise regulations.

The new regulations allowed for the permitting and installation of a Large Scale Wind Energy Turbine at the Worcester’s Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School (aka Holy Name) in 2008. Currently, this is the only large wind turbine in the City. You can read this project's profile here.


Studies of Wind Energy Potential on City Properties

From 2007-2012, the City, with assistance from and partnership with Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, investigated feasibility of wind installations on municipal properties. The investigation zeroed in on the Worcester Tech High School's property, but the final recommendation was not in favor of a medium or large-scale wind turbine on school’s property. Click here to learn more.

Small Wind. In January of 2010, the City amended its Large Wind (Energy Conversion Facilities) Ordinance by providing allowances for small-scale wind turbines (maximum rotor diameter 20-ft, maximum height 95-ft).

Following Walmart’s decision in the spring of 2015 to remove all of the 12 small-scale parking lot wind turbines (mounted on the top of 48-ft parking-lot lights for about 4 years), there are currently no small-scale wind turbines in the City.

Summary of City's Large Wind Regulations

The City of Worcester’s first Climate Action Plan was adopted in December of 2006. Holy Name’s potential wind turbine dove-tailed with the green policies and ordinances as called for by the Plan. Since wind energy was not an allowed use per Zoning Ordinance, the external pressure from Holy Name’s potential project elevated the urgency within the City administration for the removal of the existing regulatory barriers. The principal author of the draft ordinance was Joel Fontane, Director of Planning & Regulatory Services Division at the time.

The ordinance allowing large wind turbines in the City was adopted by the Council in June of 2007 and capped the maximum height of a large wind turbine at 265-ft. This height limitation balanced the policy intent to encourage and make financially feasible the production of renewable energy, with City’s aesthetics, quality-of-life issues, and public safety concerns. (Large utility-scale wind turbines can reach up to 400-ft in height.)

Overview of the Ordinance. The ordinance allows for the consideration of Wind Energy Conversion Facilities (WECFs) through a special permit process that empowers the Planning Board to consider proposals at locations throughout the City. It regulates the location of these facilities through setbacks and performance standards. The proposed setback requirements of this ordinance limit the number of available locations to large areas of land, unless abutters agree to an applicant’s request for a waiver from this requirement. The application requirements proposed include, but are not limited to, the following: project overview, vicinity plan, site plan, maintenance plan, and assessments related to sightlines, sound, shadow flicker, and environmental and wildlife impact. In addition, the applicant must provide compliance certificates and statements that confirm conformance with the ordinance and other pertinent governmental regulations and manufacturer specifications.

Quality-of-life & Safety. To ensure that quality-of-life and safety concerns are addressed, the ordinance includes several provisions for setbacks tied to the turbine height. From a quality-of-life perspective, the most important setback required is the 650-ft separation of a wind turbine from the nearest non-participating landowner’s occupied building. Occupied buildings are defined as churches, hospitals, libraries, residences, and other buildings used for public gathering. This setback regulation is based on how sound degrades with distance, the sound emanated by wind turbines, and a review of other jurisdictions’ regulations related to wind turbines.

Other Quality-of-life Issues. Concerns related to shadow flicker and signal interference are addressed through efforts by the applicant to minimize shadow flicker, and through conformance with Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations pertaining to harmful interference with radio and television signals. Shadow flicker is defined as moving shadows cast by rotating wind turbine blades that cause a flickering effect. This effect typically occurs during December and January in the northern hemisphere for brief periods during the day when the sun is low in the sky and shines from behind the wind turbine blades. Applicants are required to model the extent of shadow flicker caused by wind turbine blades and make reasonable efforts to minimize shadow flicker to any occupied building on a non-participating landowner’s property.