Site Assessment for Wind Energy

The following advice is adapted from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, concerning the siting of wind turbines. (source)

Turbines for Landowners and Potential Wind Project Developers

A wide range of issues needs to be considered when siting a wind project. Placing turbines to take advantage of the best wind resources must be balanced with minimizing their impact on their surroundings and the environment.

Ecological and geological aspects of proposed sites must be taken into consideration. A windy site over a wetland or a downtown area is not likely to be "developable," and projects on native prairie or other delicate ecosystems may raise special concerns. It is also important to make sure that the soil and underlying rock can support a wind turbine.

Permitting, environmental studies/mitigation, and construction costs are all site-specific and can have a significant impact on the overall economics of a project. These and other siting issues must be examined in the early stages of planning a wind project.

Wind projects are subject to many siting considerations and permit requirements, depending on their size and location. A single small residential turbine on a farm may be subject to minimal environmental/neighbor concerns, zoning requirements, and permits.

If the same small turbine were on a large lot in a developed residential neighborhood, many additional "good neighbor" issues would need to be considered even if there were no additional formal requirements. Specific rules for both small and large turbines vary widely from state to state, county to county, and even neighborhood to neighborhood.

When permits are required, they become part of the "critical path" or timeline toward completing the project. If there are surprises, then significant delays and extra costs are likely. (In most rural cases, permits are much less of a problem. See our page on bylaws).

In the worst-case scenario, a planned project might have to be cancelled if needed permits are denied or siting-related costs become too high. Good project planning means knowing early on what the local requirements are and designing the project to be consistent with those requirements.

This same point applies to prudent actions that are not required by permits. If it is unclear whether a local government will require a permit or what its standards are, it will be difficult to make commitments or design a project that will pass muster. Potential environmental or neighbor concerns should be identified upfront.

Government policy often favors wind projects because the technology does not require mining, refining, or transportation of fuels; has zero emissions; does not consume, heat, or contaminate water; does not involve toxic chemicals; is quiet and safe to operate; and produces no waste.

Most of these advantages also mean wind systems can be relatively easy to site compared to most other kinds of power plants. Unfortunately, careless project design, installation, or operation can offset these advantages. Achieving all the benefits of wind energy depends not only on how much energy the turbines produce but also on how well the project's impact is minimized.

Usually, negative impacts of wind projects can be avoided, reduced, or mitigated by conventional means, especially if the project is sensibly located and all the issues are considered during the planning stages.

The Land

A good look at your land will tell you whether your property can support a wind turbine.

Your land should be able to support the weight of the turbine itself as well as the weight of the construction equipment required for larger turbines. A construction company or a geologist who does soil borings can help you determine this.

Turbines require lots of open space to harness the power of the wind; the land surrounding turbines can be used for farming and ranching. The turbine platform itself occupies only a few square yards, or even less for small turbines. You may also need room for an access road. You'll want to place your project away from buildings and trees.

The site must be large enough to accommodate setbacks from a neighbor's property or buildings, which may be required by local zoning laws.

It is a good idea to place your turbine back from property lines in case your neighbor later builds an obstruction that affects the flow of wind.

Advertiser Links for alternative energy [ what's this?]