Living off Grid and Real Estate Law

It seems that no form of energy production is without controversy. Nuclear power poses threats of invisible radiation and nuclear waste while wind-power is anything but invisible with giant windmills built by extraterrestrials jutting above pristine landscapes. Solar power requires thousands of acres to produce any usable electricity for the Grid and obviously struggles at night, while coal threatens to turn the earth into an oven in the not-too-distant future.

For those who want to do their part for the environment and live off Grid, personal energy production in the form of solar, wind, or even micro hydropower seems like a responsible option. However, your decision may quickly remind you why public utilities exist when your neighbors object to your 132 foot high windmill, or when your massive solar panels turn your house into a earth-bound version of the International Space Station.

Windmill proposal in Bourne, Mass. blown away

In 2009, Mrs. Wendie Howland, according to a NY Times article, spent several thousand dollars on a 10-kilowatt wind turbine that would have powered her home. However, she hit some opposition from the local planning board. They saw her 132-foot windmill as a safety hazard that would also have “an adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood.”

Not just in Massachusetts, but all over the country, personal power production is running into roadblocks when property owners do not perform the necessary due diligence before pulling the trigger on their projects.

Not just planning boards, but also HOA’s, and even spontaneous petitions can scuttle worthwhile projects of green-minded individuals and companies. People need to understand that energy production, even for personal use, is still production. It will be subject to regulation and government oversight just the same as any production facility.

What you can do

The first step in home energy production is to first determine the resources available to you. Many areas of Massachusetts for example are prime locations for wind power. However, some areas are more suited for home solar panels or even with the right water rights, micro hydropower.

Mrs. Howland, above, was indeed in a prime location for wind power but she should have held off on purchasing equipment until she had spoken with an experienced real estate attorney. Unfortunately, she spent money for legal fees only after the planning board blocked her proposal.

A good real estate attorney will know how to get the proper permissions and be able to sidestep legal problems before they arise to secure the rights for your home energy project.

Five years after the Bourne, Mass. incident above, the US Department of Energy website in their online Small Wind Guidebook make no mention of the legal ramifications or responsibilities property owners should prepare for when investing in home windmill installation. This is a massive oversight considering the authority of local governments and regulations to shut down your project.

At Pulgini & Norton, we believe in clean energy. As experienced Massachusetts real estate attorneys we can help you with all of your real estate legal needs. If you have a home energy project in mind, give us a call and we can help legally pave the way for you.

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