10 Steps in Building a Wind Farm


10 Steps in Building a Wind Farm
1. Understand Your Wind Resource The most important factor to
consider in the construction of a wind energy facility is the site’s wind
resource. A site must have a minimum annual average wind speed in the
neighborhood of 11-13 mph to even be considered. Local weather data
available from airports and meteorological stations may provide some
insight as to averages. You can also check the wind maps for your state on
the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Web site, at
http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/ .In time, you will want to install your
own monitoring devices to record the site’s wind characteristics. A listing of
consultants specializing in wind resource assessment can be found at the
American Wind Energy Association Web site: see
http://www.awea.org/directory/consultcde.html . More information on basic
principles of wind resource evaluation can be found at
http://www.awea.org/faq/basicwr.html .
2. Determine Proximity to Existing Transmission Lines A critical issue
in keeping costs down in building a wind farm is minimizing the amount of
transmission infrastructure that has to be installed. High voltage lines can
cost thousands of dollars per mile. Whenever possible, availability and
access to existing lines should be considered in selecting a site.
3. Secure Access to Land Landowners, both private and public, will
expect to be compensated for any wind energy development that occurs on
their land. Royalty or lease agreements will need to be discussed with all
parties involved. Roads, transmission equipment, maintenance infrastructure, turbines, and the like all
need to be considered. Moreover, the construction of a wind farm necessitates the use of heavy industrial
equipment. Developers will need to invest in roads capable of accommodating significant weight. To do
so will require the cooperation of landowners and, in some cases, the local community.
4. Establish Access To Capital Building a wind farm is not cheap. On average, wind power
development costs around $1 million per megawatt (MW) of generating capacity installed. To take
advantage of economies of scale, wind power facilities should be in excess of 20 MW. Assuming the
average wind turbine is rated at 750 kilowatts (kW) in capacity, this means the installation of at least 26
turbines and an initial investment of $20 million dollars.
5. Identify Reliable Power Purchaser or Market To date, wind energy is the most cost competitive
renewable energy option on the market. In fact, wind energy’s cost has declined so much that it rivals
many traditional power generation technologies. However, utilities will tend to purchase power from what
they consider to be the cheapest and most reliable technology. In most cases today, that is natural gas.
That does not mean there is not a market for wind, though. Demand for “green power” (electricity from
clean sources like wind that is sold to customers at a premium price) and environmental requirements are
creating buyers for wind energy and competitive rates. Before investing thousands of dollars into wind
resource assessments, permitting, and pre-construction activities, a developer will secure tentative
commitments from one or more buyers for the wind plants output over 10 to 30 years of its operational
6 Address Siting and Project Feasibility Considerations The fact that a site is windy does not mean
it is suitable for wind power development. A developer needs to consider many factors in siting a project.
Is there high raptor activity in the area? Are there endangered or protected species that could be
jeopardized by the presence of the facility? Is the site’s geology suitable and appropriate for industrial
development? Will noise and aesthetics be issues for the local community? Will the turbines obstruct the
flight path of local air traffic? There are quite a few environmental and social issues that will need to be
addressed in the siting of a wind power facility. Wind farms can make great neighbors, but it is the
obligation of the developer to work to ensure that a project proceeds in a fashion that is acceptable to
regulators and the local community.
7. Understand Wind Energy’s Economics There are many factors contributing to the cost and
productivity of a wind plant. For instance, the power a wind turbine can generate is a function of the cube
of the average wind speed at its site, which means that small differences in wind speed mean large
differences in productivity and electricity cost. Additionally, the swept area of a turbine rotor is a function
of the square of the blade length (the radius of the rotor’s swept area). A modest increase in blade length
boosts energy capture and cost-effectiveness. Financing methods can make a major difference in project
economics as well. Securing significant investment capital or joint ownership of a project can cut costs
significantly. Furthermore, there are federal and state incentives for which a project may qualify and
which could reduce costs and encourage more favorable investment.
8. Obtain Zoning and Permitting Expertise Siting any power project can be a daunting task due to the
dizzying array of social and environmental factors at play. A wind power developer would be well served
to obtain the services of a professional familiar with the regulatory environment surrounding wind power
development. A listing of appropriate consultants can be found at
http://www.awea.org/directory/consultsflm.html and http://www.awea.org/directory/consultcde.html .
Additionally, legal counsel familiar with the local political climate may be able to help navigate the
permitting process.
9. Establish Dialogue With Turbine Manufacturers and Project Developers Every wind turbine is
different despite seemingly similar power ratings. Some machines are designed to operate more
efficiently at lower wind speeds while others are intended for more robust wind regimes. A prospective
wind power developer would be wise to investigate all the various considerations and compare the
performance to existing machines. Moreover, anecdotal information and even the professional services of
wind power developers may prove helpful. A listing of utility-scale wind turbine manufacturers can be
found at http://www.awea.org/directory/wtgmfgr.html and a listing of developers can be found at
http://www.awea.org/directory/developers.html .
10. Secure Agreement to Meet O&M Needs Wind turbine technology has made great strides in the
recent years. Today’s machines are more efficient and cost-effective than ever. However, they are also
more complex. Turbine availability (reliability) is a major factor in project success, and the services of
professional familiar with the operation and maintenance of wind turbines can prove to be invaluable.
Also, turbine manufacturers may offer more favorable product guarantees knowing that qualified project
operators will be on site to maintain the equipment. A listing of project operators can be found at
http://www.awea.org/directory/developers.html .
For additional information on wind power development please refer to AWEA’s Web site at
http://www.awea.org or contact AWEA by e-mail at windmail@awea.org or by phone at (202) 383-2500