Wind Farms in the US

Let us go detailed about the wind farms in the United States of America. It is good to learn about them as it always is a lesson for the World to produce electricity from the cheapest and clean energy available in abundance on Earth. We shall also look into the facts that why winds farms are being resisted by a few.

In the late 1960s William Heronemus  “Father of the modern wind power predicted a future energy crisis due to rising oil prices, depletion of fossil fuel resources and inter-governmental  politics. He had a vision of a grand scale of renewable energy development. He is credited with the invention of the terms wind farm, wind shaft and wind smith.

A Wind farm is a group of wind turbines located in an area, arranged in a manner to take maximum benefit of the wind blowing here. Some wind farms have several hundreds of wind turbines and cover large areas. These have come up all over the world. In the US, California first became home to the largest wind farm because e of the tax rebates they provided for wind power. But later more wind farms have come up in the windy central states. Harnessing wind power in America has been successful and likely to grow in the future. This is because of a stable policy environment. Policies like feed-in tariffs, renewable portfolio standards, subsidies and tax incentives have helped to promote wind farms. There are transparent regulatory guidelines and access to information for the public is available.  The US Department of Energy aims for the possibility of wind energy providing 20% of US’s total power need by the year 2030.

Community involvement in wind farm development is critical particularly in isolated areas or small towns. Public education and outreach is necessary to gain project acceptance and success. The windiest places in the US are off the coasts, in the mountains and down the Great Plains. The states with the best wind energy resources are North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Iowa. These are also states where most wind farms are located.

Advantages of Wind farms

  • Wind energy is clean source of energy, freely available and reduces dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Unlike other forms of energy like fossil fuels, there is no expensive exploration for wind and need to drill and transport the product.
  • Wind energy conversion to electricity neither produces carbon emission nor uses water. Hence the carbon footprint is negligible and it saves a community billions of gallons of water.
  • Wind farms are located on vast areas. These areas can be simultaneously used for grazing, farming, food processing industries and other such uses.
  • Wind power industry is instrumental in creating job opportunities. One study has indicated that this industry creates 27% more jobs than a coal plant and 66% more than a natural gas combined cycle power plant producing the same amount of energy.
  • Rural economy is also benefitted in many instances as wind turbine technicians are trained from the local population to install, operate and maintain the turbines.
  • The presence of wind farms promotes tourism, providing additional revenue flow to the local community , improving their standard of living.
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The first wind farm in the US was installed in Crotched Mountain, Northern Hampshire. It was installed in December 1980 and has 20wind turbines. It produces 0.6MW electricity.

The largest wind farm in the US is the Alta Wind Energy Centre also Known as the Mojave Wind Farm. It is located in the Tehachapi pass of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County in California. Originally it was to be a 320 wind turbine farm occupying 9000 acres, producing 800MW power. The first project was commissioned in 2010. As of January 2014, 10 more projects were commissioned. And the twelfth project is due to be completed in 2019. 11 units of the farm have 586 turbines in all. The current capacity of the Alta Wind farm is 1320 MW.

Denmark and United Kingdom have been leading the race in building Offshore Wind farms. The first offshore wind farm in the US is the Block Island Wind Farm just off Rhode Island. It is aimed to be a 100 turbine project producing 1.3 terawatt hours of electric power a year ie  15% of all electric power used in Rhode Island. It has started with 5 turbines with total 30MW capacity and began its operations in December 2016.

The State of Texas is the largest producer of electricity from wind energy. In 2013 it produced 36 million megawatt hours of electricity. Historically Known as Oil Country, Texas has embraced wind energy. There are 40 wind farms projects with total combined capacity of 17911 MW. The largest wind farm in this state is the Roscoe Wind farm 200miles west of Fort Worth with 634 wind turbines and capacity 781.5 MW. It is the third largest in the world.

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In Iowa a 1983 state law that required investor owned utilities to purchase 105 MW of power generated from wind led to the rise of wind farms. Wind facilities receive tax breaks and turbine equipment is exempted from state‘s sale tax. The total capacity for power generation in Iowa is 6212MW

California is not a state with very good wind resources. But it ranks third in total installed wind capacity after Texas and Iowa. This is probably because of the wind farms easy access to transmission lines. It is also a state that offer great policies to encourage wind energy development. It built the first modern wind farms in the 1980s and by 1995 generated 30% of the world’s wind energy. Its three major wind farms are Altamont Pass Wind Farm, Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm and San Gorginio Pass Wind Farm. Its annual capacity is 6108MW.

The Arid Western Half of Oklahoma often referred to as the Wind Corridor has high average annual wind speeds. In 2014 over 17% of the state’s electricity was generated from wind. Its total capacity is 5184MW.

Illinois had its first wind farm installed in 2003. In 2007 the state introduced a renewable portfolio standard that required electric companies to derive 10% of power from renewable sources by 2010 and 25% by 2025. This helped the state to expand its wind energy utilities. Its total capacity is close to 3842MW

Why are some against wind farms?

Everyone is aware of the impact human activity has on the environment. Though wind is a good source of energy there are still some naysayers. Some of their main complaints are

  • Wind farms take up a lot of land. Though farming can be done on the same land, local residents often object to them.
  • Many times trees have to be cleared and large holes dug to create the cement foundation of the turbine .This also ruins the natural beauty of a place and cause loss of natural habitat for many smaller species.
  • Turbines are noisy. Many turbines together make a louder noise. Most modern turbines do not make as much noise as earlier ones. But those wind farms using the earlier types of turbines cannot change them right away till they at least cover a life cycle of 20 years because of the cost of installing them
  • Wind turbines cause the death of birds and bats. The complaint against the Altamont Pass Wind Farm was that it was set in the path of the migratory birds and improperly planned.
  • Many people object to the disturbance of the scenic view created by tall turbines and multitude of transmission wires. It is probably as well that more offshore wind farms are planned these days. The winds are stronger across the sea and the turbines are not in the line of sight of people
  • There may be an environmental impact of the vibration caused by the turbines in the ground on which they stand.
  • There have been complaints about abandoned wind farms such as the one in Kamao Wind Farm, Hawaii. The older, less productive turbines, which were not tested properly hurriedly set up in the 1980s in California (following large tax subsidies), are now inoperative. Such sights spoil the public’s opinion of wind energy’s efficacy.
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In the 20th century Europe moved quickly in the direction of tapping wind energy and Americans were lagging behind. But this is not the situation now. US ranks third after Denmark and United Kingdom in percentage of wind power production.  There are several offshore projects being planned although these are more expensive than building on shore turbines. Finding the correct technology and involving the public favourably will be the right way to move forward while taking advantage of this inexhaustible green source of energy.