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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.
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 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
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Links: HomePower: Is Wind Electricity Right for You? Mother Earth News: Wind Power: Are Vertical Axis Turbines Better?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The American Wind Energy Association maintains a list of wind energy facts, including the number of U.S. wind turbines.
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