Wind turbines on the horizon in west Texas. Texas is the U.S. leader in wind energy, with more than 8,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity.
The United States has incredible wind power resources. Although wind energy currently provides only slightly more than 1 percent of U.S. electricity, that number is rising rapidly. A recent government report projects that we could get 20 percent of our electricity from wind by 2030. Most of that growth will be from utility-scale wind projects, although there’s great support for developing small wind power too, including home-scale wind turbines and small community-based projects.
So, which areas of the country have the best wind resources? Here’s a quick look at how different states compare in terms of which locations are naturally windy, and which are proving to be windy at heart by supporting programs and financial incentives to develop wind power.
Naturally Windy Places
In general, the windiest spots in the United States are off the coasts, in the mountains, and right down through the Great Plains, where a band of strong winds stretches from North Dakota to Texas. Take a look at this U.S. Department of Energy wind resources map for a quick glance at where the wind blows.
For another look at the windiest states, consider this report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which lists these 10 states (in order) as having the best wind energy resources.
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
According to AWEA, this report does not account for offshore wind resources, and it is likely to change as new wind speed measurements become available. However, it does give you a quick look at where to find some of the country’s best wind resources. That’s good to know, because although small-scale wind turbines can be a good investment even in places with only marginal winds, large utility-scale wind projects do require a location with good natural wind resources.
For more background on how to know whether you have enough wind for a wind turbine, here’s additional information about wind resource maps and categories.
Most Wind Energy Projects
So where are the wind turbines actually being built? AWEA has a terrific map where you can see the exact number of wind turbines going up by state by state, and click the links to find out more about specific projects.
Here are the top 10 states that had the most wind energy projects as of as of June 2009, in megawatts of installed wind capacity.
- Texas — 8,361
- Iowa — 3,043
- California — 2,787
- Minnesota — 1,805
- Washington — 1,575
- Oregon — 1,408
- New York — 1,264
- Colorado — 1,068
- Kansas — 1,014
- Illinois — 915
While some of the states on these two lists are the same, there are some significant differences. Notice that California, which is number three in terms of installed wind capacity, isn’t even in the top 10 for best wind resources. In fact, where wind projects get sited depends on more than just where the best wind resources are. One consideration that can make a difference is where the transmission lines are located. Another is state policies for encouraging wind energy development.
Best Wind Incentives for Homeowners
The best source for finding more information on state renewable energy policies is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). Here’s their comprehensive list of wind energy incentives, which includes incentives for both small-scale, residential wind turbines and larger, utility-scale projects.
States promote renewable energy in many ways, but here’s a quick look at which currently offer two big benefits — rebates and tax credits — to homeowners who install home-scale wind turbines.
Places with Statewide Rebates:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- District of Columbia
- Virgin Islands
Places with State-wide Tax Credits:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
Notice that the list above refers to special incentives that are available throughout the state (or territory). For U.S. homeowners, there’s also a federal tax credit of 30 percent for wind power systems. Additionally, many incentives are offered through individual utilities. See the DSIRE website to find those utility-specific programs, as well as more information about the state programs listed above.
The Most Wind-powered Classrooms
Of the growing number of community-oriented wind projects, one of the most interesting is the idea of putting wind turbines in schools. Installing a wind turbine not only helps schools reduce their electricity bills, it’s also an opportunity to educate students — as well as the wider community — about the benefits of renewable energy. Most states now have at least one school wind project underway, so chances are there’s one somewhere near you.
Here’s a quick list of states that have five or more school wind projects with wind turbines already up and running:
You can find a full list of wind in schools projects from the Wind Powering America program, along with the exact locations of the projects.
Find More Wind Resources
If you want to learn more about wind power, there’s a lot of helpful information online. Here are a few articles and websites with much more information about utility-scale wind, home wind turbines, and community wind projects.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS Articles
Other Helpful Online Wind Information
Do you have a residential wind turbine, or are there others in your community that do? Are large, utility-scale wind projects being planned for your part of the world? Tell us about the state of wind energy where you live and your thoughts about wind-generated electricity by posting a comment below.
Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on Google+.