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Frequently Asked Questions

(source: Windustry; [email protected] )

Wind Energy

Q: How much do wind turbines cost?
A: Wind turbines come in many shapes and sizes, but here is a rule of thumb on how much they cost:

  • Wind turbines have significant economies of scale. A large-scale wind turbine (i.e., greater than 600 kilowatts) costs approximately $1,000/kilowatt of nameplate capacity. That means a hypothetical 1,000 killowatt (1 megawatt) turbine will cost approximately $1 million full installed.
  • Smaller farm or residential scale turbines cost less overall, but are more expensive per kilowatt of energy producing capacity. Wind turbines under 100 kilowatts cost roughly $3,000 to $5,000 per kilowatt of capacity. That means a 10 kilowatt machine (the size needed to power an average home) might cost $35,000-$40,000.

See related Know Your Economics

Q: How big are wind turbines?
Wind turbines range in size from tiny micro turbines, to enormous utility scale power production facilities. Large turbines have rotor diameters of 50 to 90 meters. The tip of the blades might reach as high as 135 m (442 ft) in the air. Smaller turbines are usually placed on 30 to 40 meter towers.

See Windustry's related graphic: The Scale of Wind Power

Q: Are wind turbines noisy?
On a windy day, the sound of the turbine is drowned out by the wind even just a short distance from the turbine. Current technology makes noise almost a non-issue at most wind farms. However, wind turbines do produce some sound, which means wind farms should be sited with this in mind.

Read more: American Wind Energy Association Fact Sheet and information from the British Wind Energy Association .

Q: Do wind turbines harm wildlife?
Birds and bats occasionally collide with turbines, as they do with any tall structure. A few older wind projects have raised concerns about bird impacts because they were built in areas with sensitive raptor populations. Careful siting and wildlife studies make it possible to avoid most wildlife problems.

Read more: National Wind Coordinating Committee report, " Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States "

Q: Is wind energy expensive?
Wind energy is the cheapest form of new electricity generation available today. Wind power is more expensive than power from old, established power plants, but is cost competitive with any new power plant. Technology innovations and market building incentives have helped to dramatically lower costs over the last 20 years.

Read more: AWEA's wind energy costs FAQ

Q: What is the status of the wind energy market in the United States?
Wind is the fastest growing energy source in the world, expanding at a rate of 20-30% per year. The U.S. had a record year for new wind  in 2005, with more than 2,400 MW of new wind energy installations. This brings the national total to 9,149 MW of installed wind energy, enough to power 2.3 million homes. The outlook for U.S. growth in 2006 is bright as the industry in on course to bring over 3,000 new MW on-line over the year.

California remains the nation-wide leader in installed capacity with 2,150 MW, but Texas is rapidly catching up with 1,995 MW. Iowa is in third place with 836 MW and Minnesota added 129 MW in 2005, putting us in fourth place with 744 MW. Minnesota continues to lead the country in community, farmer, and locally-owned wind projects.

Read more: Windustry Fact Sheet-Introduction to Wind Energy and the American Wind Energy Association's Outlook 2006 and 2005 Global Market Report .

Q: What is Net Metering and Net Billing?
The concept of net metering programs is to allow utility customers to generate their own electricity from renewable resources, such as small wind turbines and rooftop solar systems. The customers send excess electricity back to the utility when their wind system, for example, produces more power than needed. Customers can then get power from the utility when their wind system doesn't produce enough power. In effect, net metering allows the interconnected customer to use the electrical grid as a storage battery. This helps customers get higher (retail) value for more of their self-generated electricity.

Read more: The Green Power Network: Net Metering Policies

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of connecting my wind system to the utility grid?
The advantages of utility interconnection include having standard utility AC power when you need it, not just when the wind blows; eliminating the need for storing excess electricity in batteries, which can be expensive; and you only pay for the net electricity used.  One disadvantage of net metering and net billing may be the cost of the interconnection, which can vary considerably from utility to utility. There are efforts to get standards in place for interconnection guidelines.

Q: Are there any investment opportunities in wind energy?
There are two broad classes of wind turbines: utility-scale and residential-scale. Most opportunities for public investment will be with the utility-scale turbines, as many of the industry participants are publicly-held corporations. These industry participants include wind developers who own the turbines and hold Power Purchase Agreements with utilities; the utilities or electric distribution companies that sell the electricity retail to customers; transmission companies; energy marketers; turbine installation contractors; and turbine, tower, and other related hardware manufacturers. Some of these companies are listed on Windustry's Resources page.  You should consult an investment advisor that specializes in the energy industry. A new development in the investment profession is that a growing number of advisors, managers and mutual funds are specializing in environmentally-benign investment opportunities.  A business library can also help you find references to these opportunities. 

Read more: American Wind Energy Association Investment Fact Sheet

Q: How do I lease my land to wind turbine developers?
Wind developers buy the turbines from the manufacturers, lease the land to place the turbines, construct and operate the development, and sell the electricity to a utility or distribution company. As a landowner, your business role will be to negotiate a contract for the lease of your land to a wind developer. To prepare for this, you need to understand your product (your land) and market it to your customer (the wind developer).  Wind developers are looking at more than just a strong wind resource, though. They are also looking at the availability of transmission lines, the amount of open space, and a host of other factors.  In reality, if a developer is interested in your land to host a project, they will contact you. Wind developers assume that land owners have not performed any preparatory analysis of their land. They choose sites based upon their own analysis methods.  When they have located suitable sites, they contact the land owner to negotiate a lease.  Sometimes before deciding on the land they will ask the landowner if they can perform their own analysis of the site, including installing an anemometer (wind measuring instrument). If you think you have a sufficient understanding of your land and your wind resource, you can invite conversations with developers.  Wind developers range from large, multi-national wind turbine manufacturers to small regional businesses. Some are listed on Windustry's Resources page.

Q: How do I measure the wind resource on my land? 
Wind assessment takes place at a number of different levels: consulting a wind map, obtaining previously measured data, and taking your own measurements.  The cheapest and easiest way to assess your resource is to consult a wind map.  It is important, however, to remember that wind maps are not always detailed to the level of individual homesteads and there are many factors, such as hills, buildings, and trees that may further cause variances from the map.  Nevertheless, it is a good place to start to give a general idea of your resource and do some basic economic analysis. 

The next step is to obtain data that has already been measured by other groups in your area.  Airports, for example, keep track of wind speeds in their area. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) also gathers wind speed data for public lands.

Finally, you can measure your own wind speed by installing a device called an anemometer.  DEQ and partners are currently administering a state anemometer loan program free to the general public. A total of eight 20-meter anemometers are currently deployed out in the field. To apply for a 20-meter tower and to get further information for state lands, contact Kathi Montgomery at 406-841-5243. The Montana Anemometer Loan Program website provides data from the anemometer locations (see Montana Wind Database) and summary reports for two locations.


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