Wind Farming

Posted: May 5, 2005

What is the criteria to think about to determine if you have an attractive location for wind machines?

You have probably heard about some dairy farmers who have “cashed in” on selling the wind rights from their farms. How can you do the same? Obviously you will need to be in a windy location. But there is far more involved to determine whether you have an attractive location for wind machines.

Wind machines are expensive! The huge wind machines (some people call them wind turbines) that you can see in western Pennsylvania as you are driving along the PA Turnpike cost about one million dollars each. In addition, there are expenses for infrastructure development and for the connection gear to tie the generated electricity into the established grid system. The total cost for a cluster of eight wind machines is about ten million dollars.

Site selection for wind power generation is of a highly technical nature. A minimum average wind speed of 13 miles per hour during each month throughout the year is required for cost-effective, utility-scale wind power development. Many PA locations have high wind speeds during the winter months but the minimum wind speed needs to be maintained throughout the summer months as well when electricity is most valuable. There are many additional requirements that need to be met before an energy developer or investment group is interested in making the large investment necessary to develop a wind farm.

Additional considerations include:

  • Distance to an already established substation and transmission lines
  • Bird migratory patterns
  • Environmental impacts
  • Federal Aviation Administration restrictions
  • Local zoning requirements
  • Land use requirements
  • Community acceptance

The wind energy developers already know the best sites in PA for locating wind farms that satisfy the above considerations (and others) based on available data sets and maps. Wind farm developers hire consultants to explore and analyze the feasibility of various specific sites. For example, nearly 400 sites were evaluated before Green Mountain decided on locating the first large wind farm in Somerset County. It was only after they had evaluated the nearly 400 sites that they contacted the land owner for discussions.

You may want to consider developing a small wind power system yourself to meet your on-site energy needs. There are many small-scale systems available to provide power directly for pumping water and for generating electricity. However, you need to calculate the total costs for generating electricity yourself and compare to purchasing electricity from your utility company. In most cases, you will need to continue to have service from your utility company as a back-up. Realistically, you should plan only for the on-site use of the electricity you generate. Under the present situation in Pennsylvania, selling small amounts of electricity into the grid is not economically attractive and probably will not become economically attractive in the foreseeable future.

Dennis Buffington, Agricultural and Biological Engineering