If you have plenty of wind flowing across your property, harnessing wind power can be a good investment. But to get the most out of your wind resource, you want to place a turbine, or several turbines, in the right place.
Where you place your turbine will depend upon a few key aspects: where the wind blows, the physical aspects of your property, zoning regulations, environmental concerns, how you wish to use the wind energy you produce, and your neighbors questions about site and noise.
Keep in mind, with proper planning, you can site turbines that harness the wind power efficiently and are an impressive addition to your community.
Connecting to the Grid
If you plan to connect your turbine to the existing power grid, you must make sure that your turbine is near a three-phase power line. Also, some utilities restrict how close a turbine can be to power lines, so make sure you know that ahead of time. The power lines you connect to must be big enough to handle the added generation of your turbine. You should start talking to local electric distribution company before you plan your project.
For large wind farms, the proximity to existing transmission lines is critical for minimizing infrastructure requirements and keeping costs down. High voltage lines can cost thousands of dollars per mile, so sites with good wind and access to transmission capacity can be very valuable.
Zoning and Permitting
Any wind turbine is subject to local zoning laws. You can learn more about these laws by consulting your local county officials or a lawyer familiar with your jurisdiction. If the zoning in your area doesn't allow high towers, you'll need to obtain a special permit from your local planning commission. Investigating zoning laws early in the development of your wind project can help avoid unnecessary delays.
Some states also have requirements based on the size of electric generating facilities. For example, 25 MW or larger projects to be installed in Minnesota must receive a permit from the Public Utilities Commission which requires an environmental impact statement (EIS). State permits usually super-cede local zoning laws. Review local, state, and federal permitting for wind projects prior to proceeding with your wind project. There are several governing bodies that may need to approve your project prior to construction. One example is the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). The FAA must permit every structure over 200 feet tall that is near the airport or within flight paths. More information is available on our website and in our Community Wind Toolbox.
Wind energy is non-polluting and therefore a good environmental choice. But any time we produce energy, we run the risk of disrupting ecosystems. Wind turbines are no different. They are not allowed in wetlands or other sensitive areas, and they also should not be located in migratory bird flyways because, like any large structure, they can kill birds. You may not want to place turbines in scenic areas where they will detract from the view. If turbines are appropriately placed, however, they are a much "greener" alternative than burning fossil fuels or nuclear generation.
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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 and the weight of construction equipment required for larger turbines. A construction company or a geologist can help you determine this.
Turbines require open space to harness the power of the wind, and the land surrounding turbines can be used for farming and ranching. The turbine platform itself, for utility-scale turbines, occupies only a few square yards. You may also need room for an access road.
You'll want to place your turbine away from buildings. 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's 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.
Obstruction graphic from the U.S. Department of Energy
Turbines do make noise and they are big. Be sensitive to your neighbors. Talk to them during the planning process and find out their concerns. If possible, place your turbines where they will be least seen and heard by neighbors. Talk to other wind turbine owners to find out what concerns their neighbors had and how they addressed them.
By actively promoting general public involvement earliy in the wind project process, you will be able to increase the likelihood of a timely permit decision and reduce the possibility of protracted litigation. The general public includes residents and members of communities near the wind development and community officials and representatives of various interests, including economic development, conservation and environmental groups. Be sure to involve these individuals early on in the process.
Just because a site is windy does not necessarily mean it is suitable for wind turbines. Once you have considered the full range of factors involved in siting a wind project, and received input from appropriate experts, you can decide whether your land is right for a turbine. Then you, too, may be able to harness the wind.