Learning by Regulating: The Evolution of Wind Energy Zoning Laws

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I study the determinants of regulation in an emerging industry by analyzing the uptake and evolution of local wind energy zoning laws. I do so by assembling a novel database of county wind energy conversion system ordinances. Using a duration analysis, I find that counties adopt regulations when potential benefits from doing so are high and regulatory costs are low. Although counties mimic the standards of their neighbors, regulations eventually become spatially heterogeneous, presumably as governments better align policies with local preferences. The findings highlight the dynamic nature of regulation in a formal environment, building on the seminal study of property rights by Harold Demsetz. I also contribute to an ongoing policy debate about which levels of government can effectively regulate wind power. I find that current state proposals to reclaim centralized control will likely stunt the local adaptation observed unless the counties have insufficient regulatory capacity to create regulations.

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