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Wind Energy Considerations

Considerations for using wind energy at the home, farm, or business include zoning/permitting, cost, operations & maintenance, environmental impact, and how wind stacks up against other renewable energy technologies. It’s particularly important to understand that with the cost of solar electricity (PV) dropping steadily in recent years, it is unlikely that small wind turbines can beat solar panels from a strictly financial point of view. Only at the utility scale can wind financially outcompete solar. That said, wind leases may offer a financing mechanism attractive to landowners, and tax credits are available for small wind turbines up to 100 kW.

Siting

If you’re still interested, know that personal impressions of the windiness of a site are often not reliable – it is better to use an objective measure. The most precise information can be obtained by placing an anemometer (a device that measures wind speed) on your site for at least one year. However, you may be able to benefit from wind data collected at over 100 sites in the state through CSU’s anemometer loan program and the state wind resource map. Winds on your site should be at least class 2 (brown), and preferably class 3 (orange) or class 4 (pink) to be even somewhat economically feasible.

Colorado hydrogen resources map

You also need to make sure your local zoning codes or covenants allow wind turbines and the fairly tall towers that allow them to catch enough wind to make electricity. (Higher towers can access faster, less turbulent winds and generate more power.) It is recommended that you have at least one acre of open land for a wind turbine. The presence of trees and buildings interferes with the wind resource. One rule of thumb is that the bottom of the area swept by a turbine’s blade should be a minimum of 30 feet above any trees or buildings within 300 feet. It is always a good idea to discuss the idea with your neighbors, as they may have input on placement.

Wind Technologies

In terms of technology, wind turbines generate power as a function of the wind speed, the swept area of the blades, and air density. So in addition to using high towers, turbines with longer blades should generate more energy than turbines with shorter blades (all else being equal). An inverter converts direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC). For wind machines that use batteries to store the power, a controller manages the electrical input to the batteries, turbines that are linked to the grid do not require batteries. You will want to wind a turbine manufacturer with a proven track record, a good warranty, and possibly a maintenance contract. Small wind turbines certified by the American Wind Energy Association’s Small Wind Certification Council can provide some security that energy production will meet expectations. Most modern residential turbines are fairly quiet—similar to ambient noise levels under average wind conditions.

System Life

When you considering buying a system, ask about its anticipated lifespan. Most reputable small turbines should perform well for many years with only periodic maintenance required. Buy a turbine that has a good track record and a good warranty—at least five years is preferable. A warranty is one indication of the manufacturer’s confidence in the product. In general, you can expect 20 years from a properly maintained turbine from a reputable manufacturer.

Other Impacts Of Wind Energy

Although the impact of wind turbines on wildlife, especially birds, is of concern to many people, research has shown that bird impacts with small, unlighted turbines are quite rare. House windows and outdoor cats have a much greater negative impact.

Last updated: February 15, 2018 at 13:09 pm