In a few years, the sight of a small wind turbine poking up above the roof of a house might not seem that unusual for residents of San Francisco, if mayor Gavin Newsom has his way.

The city, which just gave the greenlight to the nation’s biggest municipal solar subsidy, is turning its attention to wind turbines for energy-conscious homeowners and businesses. In a small meeting with reporters yesterday, Newsom said that permitting for turbines was being streamlined through an executive order, with an eye toward possible subsidies.

Wind has been an overlooked possibility for cities so far, with most writing it off as an impossibility due to building codes and less wind compared to the open plains of the Midwest. Turbines can also be expensive, though generally not more so than a mid-sized rooftop solar installation, which led the small wind turbine market to grow 14 percent last year to sales of $42 million, according to a new report from the American Wind Energy Association.

San Francisco has a small advantage here. Before becoming carpeted with houses, the city was an empty flat over parts of which trees couldn’t grow due to the continual wind. Early residents believed some western parts of the city would never become developed due to the weather. Later development blocks some of the wind, but plenty makes it through.

As to whether the city can pay for its green plans, which also include a complete replacement of all streelights with LEDs, installing new “intelligent” parking meters and solar-powered bus shelters, Newsom only grinned and said, “We can pay for it.”

Newsom also said that San Francisco may pass the strictest green building codes in the nation within the year. However, any new rules it has will be preceded by a broader set of California codes approved yesterday by the California Building Standards Commission.

Builders will have two years to begin complying with the regulations, which take full effect in 2010. Under the code, all new construction will be required to reduce energy usage by 15 percent. Water use is also addressed, with a requirement for 20 percent less to be used in the home, and 50 percent less for landscaping outside.

Environmentalists were less than happy with the codes, according to the LA Times, complaining that more regulation was needed to enforce recycling and renewable energy, and restrict use of certain woods. However, the energy efficiency components should prove a boon to green building material companies like Serious Materials.