I’d really like a wind turbine, but I have friends who claim our location isn’t windy enough. I’m not sure I buy that, because here in the Midwest, it gets pretty windy! How can I find out whether my property is right for a wind turbine?
Wind is one of the trickiest renewable resources to assess and capture. Although small wind turbines make economic sense in many locations, they’re not for everyone. Here are some of the factors that can help you figure out whether a wind turbine is right for you, and other options to consider if you decide it’s not.
First, you’ll need at least a couple of acres of land for a wind turbine. That’s because turbines and towers need to be situated far enough away from buildings, property lines and utility poles to avoid damage should the tower come crashing down (a rare occurrence).
It’s important to remember that trees and buildings create a huge amount of turbulence, which slows winds down and lowers the output of a wind system. Turbulence is to wind turbines what potholes are to cars. To generate a significant amount of energy, a turbine must be mounted on a tall tower above turbulence — typically 80 to 120 feet. This places the turbine in the smoothest and strongest winds, dramatically increasing its output. Residential turbines on short towers may look good, but in my opinion, they usually don’t produce enough energy to make them worth the investment. While the building department may permit a turbine on a short tower (less than 35 feet) in an urban or suburban neighborhood, they are not likely to permit a turbine on a tall tower, which is what you would need to make your investment worthwhile. (Some neighbors may not take kindly to a tall wind tower in your yard, either.)
To produce a lot of energy from your wind turbine, you’ll also need an adequate wind resource — at least a 12-mph average annual wind speed at 100 feet. Before you take the plunge, do a thorough site assessment to determine the average wind speed at your site and the best location for a turbine. You can get an initial read on the wind in your area by visiting NASA’s Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy. However, this website gives the average wind speed over a large area, so if you live in a valley or on a ridge, your average wind speed might be significantly lower or higher than these figures indicate. For a thorough assessment, hire a professional wind site assessor. This will cost you about $300 to $500, but it’s well worth the money. You can find a list of certified wind assessors at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. If you decide wind energy isn’t for you, consider a solar-electric system. Another option: If you want to support renewable energy but aren’t in a position to install your own system, consider buying green power from a utility. Find more information about green power options where you live at visit the U.S. Department of Energy.
— Dan Chiras, contributing editor
Above: The best sites for a home wind turbine will have an average wind speed of at least 12 mph at 100 feet. Photo by Dusty Boots Photography.