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Institutional Perspectives on Small Wind Energy Permitting


The small wind energy market has experienced uneven growth over the past three decades in California. Drawing on a combination of engineering, institutional economics, and marine ornithology, my dissertation focuses on one of the most common reasons cited for small wind energy's uneven growth: local government permitting regimes.

Local regulatory agencies aim to interpret existing public policy during the permitting process so that outcomes balance the costs and benefits of those interested in installing small wind turbines with the interests of stakeholders and the environment. Because of the relative inexperience with permitting small wind energy systems in the California coastal zone, and gaps in current public policy pertaining to the small wind energy permitting process, transaction costs can accumulate - making small wind energy permits difficult to obtain. Agencies can also impose conditions on permits that require ongoing investments in time and expertise.

I use institutional analysis to address the following questions:

(1) How can different small wind energy permitting outcomes in two coastal California case studies be explained by transaction costs?

(2) Is coastal California small wind energy development compatible with existing regulatory governance structures? And,

(3) What can California learn from Denmark's governance of small wind energy permitting?

I find that high permitting transaction costs make small wind energy permits less easy to obtain. California permitting governance regimes, particularly in the coastal zone, are maladapted to the small wind energy transaction, resulting in many transaction costs. However, as demonstrated by the more efficient Danish permitting experience, there are feasible and practical state and local government remedies that can be implemented to lower transaction costs. I also studied a small wind turbine's risk to surrounding avifauna, a post-permitting condition that created high transaction costs for one of the case studies, and find negligible impact of a small wind turbine's rotation on bird ecology.

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