Choosing a proper site for a wind turbine or farm is critical to a successful project. While the most important factors may vary from site to site, in any given instance a single factor can undermine success of an otherwise superlative project. On the other hand, sometimes a site may be weak in one area but so strong in another area that it is viable, such as a site with very strong winds that is farther than normal from a transmission line. A viable wind energy site generally includes the following key factors:
Attractive Wind Resource
Having enough wind with the right characteristics is absolutely essential. A general "sense" that an area is windy is not sufficient, and anecdotal information about an area's wind resource can often be misleading. Once a wind energy site is first identified (typically through wind resource maps) the winds at the site must be measured for at least one year to capture all seasons and a long-term estimate made before the location can be considered a viable, cost effective project. Shorter measurement periods may be adequate for site screening if sufficient nearby data are available for correlation.
For small wind, providing enough open space to reduce wind turbulence from nearby trees and buildings is important. For larger, multiple-turbine projects, the typical wind resource assessment program will incorporate multiple measurement locations and heights, wind direction, shear and terrain roughness, turbulence and turbine wake, and site evaluation tools using wind resource analysis and digital terrain models. New England sites on ridgelines with tree cover will introduce more complex terrain characteristics that make a wind resource assessment program vital.
Wind Resources in New England
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Landowner and Community Support
Typically, when a prospective wind site is identified by a project developer, landowners are contacted to discuss their interest in hosting one or more wind turbines. Most developers will enter into a land lease arrangement with the landowner, whereby the landowner grants the developer the right to access the property for studies related to permits, installing a meteorological tower to measure the winds, and ultimately, to construct and operate a wind project in exchange for a payment to the landowner. For a multiple-turbine project where a large site is necessary to capture economies of scale, a sufficient number of neighboring landowners will need to get involved to ensure that contiguous roads and electrical lines can be located between turbines.
In addition to landowner support, community support is crucial to the success of a wind energy project, whether a large, multiple-turbine project or a single residential small wind turbine. Several factors can help to build the local support of a project, including the community's understanding and appreciation of the environmental benefits and, for larger projects, tax revenue benefits and employment benefits during construction. Other factors can be a detriment to community support as well; objections to the visibility of turbines tend to drive the majority of objections in a community.
For smaller, community-scale projects advocated or sponsored by the community (a city or town) or hosted by a part of the community (a school or other commercial or industrial end-user), community support may be the driving force for the project. Such has been the case with the Hull, MA, turbines and many of the other community-scaled wind developments throughout New England.
Issues Affecting Public Acceptance
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There are many facets to permitting a wind energy project. Each project's permitting requirements are specific to the permitting jurisdiction, the characteristics and location of the site, and technical details of the project. Various studies to acquire permits in New England may include, but are not limited to, studies of:
- avian and bat interaction
- archaeological and historical review
- stream crossing and soil disturbance
- aviation interaction (see more below)
- Local zoning
The permitting process is typically a public process with opportunity for the community to learn about the project and weigh in.
Issues Affecting Public Acceptance
Grant assists Cape Cod communities plan for wind turbine development
The Cape Cod Commission and the Cape Light Compact, agency departments administered by Barnstable County, have secured a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) as part of the Community Planning and Development Solicitation program. The purpose of the grant is to assist communities on Cape Cod in planning for land-based distributed generation facilities, specifically land-based wind turbine development. The scope of the grant includes three parts:
- creation of a "suitability map" that aims to identify areas suitable for locating distributed wind energy facilities in Barnstable County;
- an assessment of distributed wind energy technologies to establish their scale, application, and potential impacts; and
- development of a model bylaw to provide a framework for towns in creating local regulations to accommodate uses of this kind and to provide a tool to understand this complex technology.
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Compatible Land Use
A viable wind project must be compatible with the uses of the site and its surroundings by both humans and wildlife. Nearby residential development can present conflicts due to the difficulty of maintaining appropriate setbacks for zoning, sound, and public safety during construction and operation.
The value of a property is influenced by its highest value uses, and if such uses are not compatible with wind generation, then the value of a property may be diminished by converting it to hosting wind turbines. Projects at higher elevation sites prone to icing need to consider proximity to the public during winter to ensure public safety. However, many uses are fully compatible with wind energy. For instance, farmland is ideally suited, since land parcels are large and sparsely populated, and the amount of land taken out of production as the footprint of wind generators and ancillary roads is small compared to the added revenue to the landowner.
In New England, many of the higher elevation sites that are attractive for wind energy projects are under conservation easements or are state or federally owned lands that may not allow for wind development. Other windy sites, whether on mountain ridges or shorelines, are highly valued for their recreational or scenic purposes. However, opportunities do exist where land use and wind projects can be compatible, such as land currently used for farming and timber harvesting operations, ridgelines with little public use or not under conservation easements, and industrial or commercial properties.
The compatibility of a wind energy installation with wildlife is typically addressed as part of permitting. Developers looking at prospective sites mitigate wildlife concerns early by avoiding areas of major bird flyways and areas with known sensitive, threatened, or endangered species.
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Proximity to a Nearby Transmission Interconnection
For small wind, proximity to the electrical interconnection point (the home or business electric meter) is necessary to minimize construction and wiring costs. Similarly, for large projects, a nearby transmission line with the capacity to handle the power output of the wind farm is critical. Power lines and substations can be costly and time consuming to permit and build. Costs are highly dependent on the area through which the line will run and the size of the line. An otherwise fantastic wind site may not be viable due to the cost and/or difficulty of interconnecting to the grid.
Typically projects will need to work with the local utility and/or the region's power pool operator to determine the feasibility of connecting to the nearest transmission line. The interconnection study will assess the impact of the wind energy and its electrical characteristics on the regional power grid; if modifications or upgrades are necessary to accommodate the project, the study will identify the technical and financial requirements to do so. This rigorous and highly technical study is necessary to insure continued reliability of the power grid as directed by the regional system operator (for New England, the New England Independent System Operator, ISO New England) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
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Appropriate Site Conditions for Access During Construction and Operations
Many of New England's larger wind energy sites are, and will be, located on ridgelines to capture the more attractive wind resource at the higher elevations. Typically, road access to these sites can be marginal or non-existent. Developers look for sites with existing adequate roads that can handle the construction equipment requirements of delivering large turbine and tower components and the specialized crane to erect the turbine. The grade, turning radius, and loading criteria for construction require highly suited road access, or the ability to modify the road to accommodate the criteria. If no such roads exist, careful consideration must be given to new road construction and the impacts on the project economics.
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As they are usually the highest objects in their vicinity, wind turbines must be sited to avoid the possibility of hazards to aviation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established regulations applicable to large structures such as wind towers. Tower heights more than 200 feet, which include most utility-scale wind turbines, require Federal Aviation Lighting and the filing of the FAA form '7460-1 Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration'. Each FAA region works with wind developers to design lighting requirements specific to that region and the site. The FAA is currently working to create a national standard for wind turbine lighting. Each FAA region would have the option to adopt these recommendations.
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Favorable Electricity Market
The economics of small wind projects, under a net metering configuration, are largely based on the retail electricity rate that the wind energy displaces. New England tends to have high retail rates compared to most other regions of the country. With the appropriate net metering legislation in place and the right site, small wind can be a cost-effective supplement to a home or business's electricity supply.
A large wind project's revenue (and hence, its economic viability) depends on the region's wholesale electricity market. Attractive market prices, and the ability to secure attractive power purchase contracts for the energy from the wind project, are largely dependent on the costs of the existing mix of electric supply sources in the market and the ability of this supply mix to meet the demand. In New England, the supply mix is predominantly natural gas and nuclear, with lesser amounts of coal, oil, and hydroelectric. Wind will typically compete with supply sources that are more expensive and are used more immediately to meet the hourly fluctuations in demand; currently this tends to be natural gas. As natural gas prices continue to climb, the energy from wind will become more attractive from a cost perspective.
Furthermore, different locations within the region's power pool command different wholesale prices for electrical energy. This is primarily due to certain locations' higher demand, a lack of sufficient generation capacity in that location, and constraints in the transmission system that limit the import of less expensive power from outside that location. For example, within the New England Power Pool, energy is most valuable in southwest Connecticut (not a good location for wind) and the greater Boston area (where small wind projects along the coast may be viable) and less valuable in locations such as Maine (which has ample wind energy potential).
Favorable wholesale market rules are critically important to the viability of a wind project. Rules for physical interconnection to the power grid, and how the wind project works in concert with the power requirements of the grid (i.e., integration, balancing and scheduling, etc.) influence the value of the wind energy directly, and in some cases the cost or financial risk associated with operating the plant. The specific electric characteristics of a wind project and its ability to satisfy the local regions' power quality requirements (such as through voltage support and other ancillary services) are also important.
Selling Wind Power
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- Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities: A Handbook (PDF 1.9 MB). (August 2002). National Wind Coordinating Collaborative.
- Cape and Islands Offshore Wind Stakeholder Process sponsored by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust was used as part of the permitting for the Cape Wind project. The Trust acted as a neutral broker in this process.
- Community Wind Fact Sheet Series. University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Laboratory in collaboration with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Renewable Energy Trust Fund.
- Wind Technology Today
- Performance, Integration, & Economics
- Capacity Factor, Intermittency, and what happens when the wind doesn't blow?
- Impacts & Issues
- Siting in Communities
- Resource Assessment
- Interpreting Your Wind Resource Data
- Permitting in Your Community
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