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Wind Energy FAQs

  • Wind Energy FAQs & Resources

    Have a question?  Find the answer here.  Don't see your question?  Let us know: 

  • Starting A Project

  • Do I have enough wind?

    In Pennsylvania, the best wind resource is typically found at higher elevations and along the shore of Lake Erie. For a small wind project to be successful, a site's annual average wind speed should be no less than 10 - 12 miles per hour and the turbine should be positioned at least 30 feet above any obstacles that are within 500 feet. For larger turbines, a 6.5 + mph wind speed is typically needed to support a viable project. You can put a wind turbine just about anywhere and it will generate electricity. . .the question is how much and if the result satisfies your financial goals and other desired results. To help assess your wind resource, see our wind maps page.

    Wind speed is a critical feature of the wind resource, because the available energy in the wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed. This means that by doubling the wind speed we do not double the power in the wind, but get eight times the power. So, a site with an average wind speed of 15 mph has the potential to contain eight times the energy of a site with an average wind speed of 7.5 mph. This means that the location of the turbine, on your property and in terms of height, is absolutely essential to getting the most power out of your system.

    How much will it cost?

    A residential wind system can cost less than $1,000 for a very small turbine or over $50,000 for a system that can fully power your home. Typical installed costs can range from $15,000 - $20,000 for a 1.8 kilowatt turbine that may power a lightbulb or two to $50,000 - $100,000 for a 10 kilowatt turbine that can power your home. Bear in mind that you do get what you pay for, therefore an inexpensive turbine will not produce significant amounts of electricity. The amount of power you get depends on your resource. Elements of an installed system include the cost of the turbine, the cost of the tower, and the cost of the installation. Do not skimp on the tower height as the taller the tower, the better the resource and the more electricity you will produce.

    Most of the commercial-scale turbines installed in Pennsylvania are 1.5 to 2.5 MW in size and cost roughly $3 to 5 million to purchase, construct and install.  How a project will be financed, owned, and operated can be just as critical to success as wind resource.  Contact us for guidance.

    How much will it save?

    How much money you save depends on how much electricity you produce and what your cost of electricity is. You wouldn’t fill a bucket with water if the bucket were full of holes. Before you invest in a renewable energy system, you should make your home or business as efficient as possible.

    Efficiency means getting the same benefit with less electricity. For example a laptop computer uses less than half of the electricity as a desktop computer. A compact fluorescent light bulb uses 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb.

    Conservation refers to your actions, what we call the COPs - cheap, obvious, and profitable, such as turning things off when not in use, unplugging devices that use energy even when they are not on, and lowering your thermostat and water heater when you’re not around. These changes alone can save you 10% - 20% on your energy bills—around $300 dollars a year!

    The experts at Homepower Magazine claim that every dollar spent on efficiency and conservation will save you three to five dollars on your solar, wind or hydro system. So if you spend $200 to do an extreme green makeover of your home or business—that’s $1,000 you saved on your renewable energy system (because now it does not have to be as large since your energy demand decreased).

    What process should I follow?

    For small wind projects, begin by assessing your wind resource using a wind map. Typically on-site data collection is not necessary and cost prohibitive. Consult with an installer and have them review your property for any potentially problematic flaws. Check with your utility to ensure you can connect to the gird and with your municipality to ensure there are no policies restricting the installation of a system. A knowledgeable installer should be able to help you with these and other important tasks as well as assisting in system design and financing. You can then proceed to construction. The allotted time will vary, but on average may take a few months to design a layout and install.    

    Larger projects may follow a similar process, such is outlined below, although it can easily take 4 - 6 years to go from concept to completion.

    1. Determine Resource  - Wind Map Analysis, Site Visit, On-Site Analysis
    2. Investment Analysis
    3. Permitting
    4. Power Purchase Agreement
    5. Financing
    6. Turbine Procurement
    7. Construction
    8. Operations and Maintenance
    Can I connect my system to the grid?

    Beginning in the mid-2000s, investor-owned utilities in Pennsylvania were required to begin accepting electricity generated by individual consumers.  Alternative Energy Credits may also be available.  Before beginning a project, be it wind or otherwise, be sure to inform your utility so that you can plan accordingly for any requirements you may need to meet in order to connect your system to the grid. 
    Learn more: DSIRE: Net Metering
                           Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards

    How do I choose an installer?

    It is recommended that you compare multiple companies before you make a decision.  Make sure to base your decision on equal offerings (for example: the same style of turbine at the same height, etc.). Visit our PA Business Directory for tips on this. 

    Are there financial incentives? Where can I find them?

    See our starting a renewable energy project page for financial resources.  If you are looking to develop a community scale project, ask about our financing tool.

    How much land do I need?

    Generally speaking, for a small wind turbine, you need at least a 1/2 acre of open land where you can mount the turbine on a tower (though this depends on local zoning and regulations).  

    Larger turbines will need between one and several acres of open land during installation.  Once complete, the space requirement will typically shrink, allowing activities such as farming to occur around the turbine.  A wind farm, consisting of many wind turbines, may span hundreds or thousands of acres.

    What size of turbine should I select?

    A typical home in the United States uses approximately 11,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a year. The size of your turbine depends on your resource, your energy consumption, and how much power you want to produce. Invest in energy efficiency first and never skimp on the height of the tower. 

    How do I choose a turbine model?

    The amount of electricity you want to produce and space requirements are just a few of many factors that should factor into finding the optimal turbine for your site.

    The Small Wind Certification Council has established criteria to test small wind turbines in a standardized form and then report the results on an "apples-to-apples" basis. Annual energy, sound, and power ratings are provided for each certified model. 

     Whether enrolled in the SWCC or not, it is important to conduct a thorough review of each turbine and manufacturer you are considering before making a decision, as the small wind industry continues to change and evolve. 

    Links: HomePower: Is Wind Electricity Right for You?
                Mother Earth News: Wind Power: Are Vertical Axis Turbines Better? 

    Do I need a permit?

    This varies by township. Contact your local township office and ask if your township has a residential and/or utility wind ordinance.  See an example PA Model Ordinance. Also see a catalog of wind energy ordinances from across the country. If no ordinance is established, DOE has developed a Wind Energy Guide for County Commissioners.  

    Does a turbine need maintenance?

    An annual or bi-annual inspection is usually recommended for small wind turbines.  Check your instruction manual for a maintenance schedule and guidelines.  It is important to monitor the health of your wind turbine on a continual basis.  If you hear or see something abnormal, it is important to address the problem to limit damage to your machine.   Remember to use extreme caution around the turbine and to leave tasks such as climbing and electrical work to professionals.

    Utility scale wind turbines require maintenance on a regular basis.  Wind farms typically have a dedicated staff to complete this task.

  • Wind Turbines and Their Environs

  • Does a wind turbine affect the value of nearby property?

    Studies on this issue in the U.S. have generally found that there is limited change in the value of a property near a wind turbine, such as an August 2013 publication by the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The LBNL study looked at over 50,000 home sales in nine states where turbines were within 10 miles of the property (including sites in Pennsylvania). "Across all model specifications, we find no statistical evidence that home prices near wind turbines were affected in either the post-construction or post announcement/pre­-construction periods," the report states. Homes within a mile of wind turbines were "highly unlikely" to vary more than 4.9% above or below homes not near wind turbines and homes within a half mile of wind turbines were "highly unlikely" to vary more than 9.0%. The report also accounted for potential changes that could have occurred from before construction of a wind farm was announced, until after it was constructed. The publication also summarizes previous studies on this topic (pages 2 - 7). 

    What impact does the installation of a wind turbine have on the environment?

    Wind turbines, like all electricity sources, can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. On the positive side, wind turbines emit no pollution, generate no waste, require no mining for fuel, and use negligible amounts of water. They have a small footprint and the land around them can still be used for farming or forests. On the negative side, turbines and their access roads can fragment habitat. Unless carefully constructed and maintained, the roads can lead to erosion. The turbines must be properly sited to avoid avian migratory paths and bats. Turbines are also sometimes noted for producing noise and causing a shadow flicker. Some people enjoy seeing wind turbines, viewing them as kinetic sculpture and some find them aesthetically unpleasing.
    Learn more: Environmental Impacts and Siting of Wind Projects


    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has established voluntary land-based wind energy guidelines for wind energy projects. The Guidelines use a 'tiered approach' for assessing potential adverse effects to species of concern and their habitats," according to the guideline's executive summary. The guidelines provide an outline for understanding the characteristics of a site and monitoring the area before, during, and after construction of a wind farm. See the US. Fish and Wildlife Service's webpage for information about interactions between wind and wildlife. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has developed a Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperative Agreement with wind developers. They try to monitor, understand, and reduce impacts of the development of wind in the commonwealth. Information related to the agreement and reports are available at the PGC's website.

    Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program provides"information on the location and status of important ecological resources." The program's website includes a county inventory interactive map and an environmental review tool. 

    Can a wind turbine be placed near an airport?

    Before a wind turbine can be installed, an obstruction evaluation/ airport airspace analysis (OE/AAA) may need to be completed by the Federal Aviation Administration.  Structures over 200 feet above ground level and those within close proximity to an airport, among others, must be reviewed.
    Learn more: FAA Wind Turbine FAQs 

    Can a wind turbine interfere with radar?

    Wind turbines in close proximity to a radar unit may interfere with an accurate reading, whether it be for defense purposes or weather monitoring.  When the National Weather Service's NEXRAD dopplar radar detects motion (such as rain), it concludes that it is precipitation.  The radar cannot differentiate between precipitation and a wind turbine, so a weather map may appear to have rain at a wind farm when it is actually sunny.  In Pennsylvania you may notice this effect on weather maps in Cambria and Blair Counties.  
    Learn more: How Rotating Wind Turbine Blades Impact The Nexrad Doppler Weather Radar

  • Wind Technology

  • What is the difference between a windmill and a wind turbine?

    A windmill is a device used to pump water or grind grain.  A wind turbine generates electricity, although these machines are commonly referred to as windmills as well.

    How big is a typical wind turbine?

    Turbine towers can be over 300 feet tall and have blades more than 150 feet long.  This means that when a blade tip reaches it's peak height, it can be 450 feet, or more, in the air. 

    As technology has advanced over time, engineers have been able to develop larger turbines, allowing more wind to be harnessed while using fewer turbines. In 2019, the Big Level Wind Farm was constructed in Potter County, PA, with the blades on some of the turbines reaching more than 650 feet into the air - the tallest in North America - to date.

    How much electricity does a wind turbine produce?

    A small wind turbine may generate enough electricity to power anywhere from a light bulb up to several houses, depending on the size and the speed of the wind.  A utility scale turbine can power hundreds of homes when operating in optimal wind speeds.  For example, EverPower, developer of the Patton Wind Farm in Cambria County, stated that the fifteen 2.0 MW turbines at the project generate  "enough electricity to power approximately 7,000 homes annually." 

    Where does the electricity produced by a wind turbine go?

    The electricity produced by a wind turbine may be used on-site or sent to the grid.  

    In most situations, such as at wind farms, power produced by a turbine is sent to the power grid.  The power grid is a set of electrical transmission and distribution lines that connect electricity generators and consumers.

    It works like this: First, the electricity produced from a wind power plant goes to a local substation.  From the substation, the electrons flow to where they are needed.  If there is no demand locally, they continue on down the line.  If you live close to a wind farm, there is a very good chance that the electrons produced from the wind turbines end up in your home.  However, electrons cannot be traced or followed, which makes it very difficult to say for sure from which power plant they came.  If you live in PA, it's likely to be a conglomerate of energy sources, including coal, nuclear, natural gas, wind and others.  If you see a sign that advertises a home or business is 100% powered by wind energy, it is usually referring to the "Renewable Energy Credits" they purchased and not the physical electrons flowing into their appliances. 

    It is possible to use wind power on-site, however, in order to have power when the wind is not blowing, a user must rely on batteries, have another energy source producing power, or be connected to the grid. 

    Why might a turbine not be spinning?

    A few reasons a  wind turbine might not be spinning are if the wind speed is not strong enough, if maintenance is being performed on the machine, if there is not a need for electricity (this occurs when the turbine could be producing electricity, but the gird does not need it - a process called curtailment), or if it is a migration time for birds or bats and the turbine is in a flyway.

  • Wind History & Statistics

  • How long have humans used wind power?

    According to the Department of Energy, people may have been using wind power since 5,000 B.C. for sailing.  By 200 B.C., it is believed that windmills were being used to pump water and grind grain.  It allowed people to sail the oceans and explore the world.  In the late 1800s, millions of windmills could be found in the United States pumping water. Even here in Pennsylvania, windmills were a common sight up to the 1920s and 30s and there were nearly a dozen manufacturers producing windmill models at one time or another.  The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought electricity to rural places, limiting the use of wind power in mid-century.  Commercial wind farms have developed over the past fifty years and can now produce large amounts of power.

    When was the first wind farm built in Pennsylvania?

    The first wind farm constructed in Pennsylvania was the Green Mountain Wind Energy Center in Garrett, Somerset County.  It began operating in May of 2000. It was deactivated in December 2015 and removed in November to December 2016.

    How many wind turbines are there in Pennsylvania? Where are they located?

    As of September 2020, there were over 700 utility scale wind turbines in the state of Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth exceeded 1,000 MW of installed capacity in 2012. See our wind farms page for additional information.

    How many wind turbines in the United States?

    The American Wind Energy Association maintains a list of wind energy facts, including the number of U.S. wind turbines.