Wind Farm Location





Siting a wind farm location is a lot more complicated than just choosing a spot where it’s windy. Several factors impacting efficiency, cost, community, and environment have to be considered. Below is a list of the primary concerns when deciding where to build wind farms.

Wind Resources

USA Wind resources map. Image by NREL.

USA Wind resources map. Image by NREL.

One of the most obvious considerations is the amount of wind energy in a given location also known as wind resources. It’s important that the wind not reach higher than certain speeds risking damage but also that speeds not regularly dip below levels that make operation cost prohibitive. Factors that impact this range depend on the survival speed rating of the wind turbines used and the unique energy environment of a planned site. Building a new energy source like a wind farm can have vastly different operation costs and earnings from produced energy depending on location. These factors have to be accounted for when deciding what the minimum wind resources need to be for a wind farm to be profitable.

Noise & Shadows

Although wind turbines are relatively quiet many people living close to them have complained about noise issues. There is an ongoing debate between developers of wind farms and local residents about the noise. Developers usually promise no noise and end up building within a few hundred yards of homes which are adamant that there is a new noise problem caused by the wind farm. Another issue related to siting is homes and businesses located in the shadow of a wind turbine resulting in a “flickering” shadow effect during the period of shadow coverage. Below is a video showing both of these issues and how significant the impact on a community can be from wind turbines.




While this is one of the most significant impacts of a wind farm it is rarely heard of because it affects so few people. For the unfortunate group of people who have a wind farm built next door though it matters a lot. The distance a wind turbine is built from other structures in a community is known as the setback distance. Some people claim wind farm developers are simply being greedy by siting new locations with 1,000 foot setback or less and they should be using a minimum 3,000 foot setback. A common rule used when determining setback is 3 times the height of the turbine blades but this is done for safety should a wind turbine fragment in high winds or eject ice shards during cold weather[1] and doesn’t take into account daily operation.

Environmental Issues

Savi's Pipistrelle bat killed at Vjetroelektrana Ravna 1 wind farm in Pag, Croatia. Image by Ana Jancar.

Savi's Pipistrelle bat killed at Vjetroelektrana Ravna 1 wind farm in Pag, Croatia. Image by Ana Jancar. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Overall wind turbines have a good history when it comes to environmental impact. Several studies have been done showing that wind turbines can be removed from marine, forest, and grassland returning the environment to its previous state.[2] There is a known impact on local bird and bat populations but another study showed this impact is significantly less than fossil fuels cause.[3] Certain precautions do need to be taken in avoiding local migration corridors for birds and bats or lighted facilities.[4] However in some instances wind farms have been opposed in sensitive environments like peat bog or wetlands.[5] The concern in these situations is that mistakes made or careless operation could damage these protected environments resulting in a loss of any benefit gained from using wind energy in the first place. These environment concerns (even when unfounded) tend to limit wind farms to areas already impacted by human development. Open pit mines, grazing land, and agricultural land are all prime targets for wind farm development due to their minimal environmental concerns.

Proximity to Airports & Lighted Facilities

Airports and other lighted facilities tend to attract birds and bats and so must be avoided when siting wind farms.[4] There is also issues with building large towers around airports due to the obvious increased safety risk to aircraft. Wind turbines built in close proximity to airports or further out but in major flight corridors pose a significant risk to local wildlife and aviators. Similarly brightly lit factories, radio towers, and other structures pose an increased environmental risk when located near wind farms.

Wind Turbine Transportation & Access

Wind turbine blade transportation. Image by Alexi Kostibas.

Wind turbine blade transportation. Image by Alexi Kostibas. License: CC BY-SA 2.0

The larger a wind turbine is the greater the challenge in maintaining and building it especially in rural areas. A new project underway in Norway is set to build the world’s largest wind turbine which will be 533 feet tall.[6] Obviously getting that kind of turbine up a twisting mountain road isn’t going to be cost effective and that’s why the Norway turbine is being built offshore. Although there are many rural sites ideal for wind power production most industrial scale wind turbines require a semi truck to bring the pieces to the site. Damage during high winds and regular maintenance demand a cost effective means of transporting equipment to and from a wind farm location. Employees of a wind farm also need to be able to get to work every day, perform maintenance and repairs, and go home.

Distance to Power Lines

One of the most important considerations made when siting a wind farm is distance to existing electrical grid technology. A connection will have to be made from the wind farm to the power grid at an approved interconnection point. Building the power infrastructure to reach that interconnect point might require negotiating with several land owners, requiring permits, and significant construction costs.[7] For all of these reasons the distance to an interconnect point is extremely important when siting a wind farm. Larger wind farms can afford these additional costs and it’s typically smaller projects that face the largest hurdle connecting to the grid.

Sources:

1. Terrestrial Wind Turbine Siting Report
2. Study shows offshore wind farms can co-exist with marine environment
3. Contextualizing avian morality
4. Considering natural resource issues in windfarm siting
5. Bid to ban peat bog wind farms comes under attack
6. Norway to build world’s most powerful offshore wind turbine
7. Wind Power Project Site: Identification and Land Requirements

Sponsors:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>