Wind machines are expensive! The huge wind machines (some people call them wind turbines) that you can see in southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania as you are driving along the interstate highways cost between $1.5 and $2 million each. In addition, there are expenses for infrastructure development and for the connection gear to tie the generated electricity into the established grid systems. The total cost for a cluster of eight wind machines now costs about $14 to $16 million.
Site selection for wind-power generation is a highly technical activity. 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. Many additional requirements 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 and bat 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. Only after they had evaluated the nearly 400 sites could they contact the landowner for discussions.
You may want to consider developing a small wind-power system yourself to meet your on-site energy needs. Many small-scale systems are available to provide power directly for pumping water and generating electricity. However, you need to calculate the total costs for generating electricity yourself and compare that to purchasing electricity from your utility company. In most cases, you will want to continue to stay connected to your utility company as a backup. 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. However, pending legislation on net-metering laws may make it far more feasible to sell excess electricity into the grid and get a substantial cash return.
Information concerning small-scale wind generation systems is available from the American Wind Energy Association. Click on "Small Wind" (defined as wind machines with a capacity of 100 kW or less).