Community-Supported Wind Farms

Denmark has successfully created renewable energy systems with community-supported wind farms for decades. Learn how you can partner with your neighbors and create clean, locally controlled wind farms in your community.

| June/July 2008

Perhaps you’d like to have a wind farm in your back yard, but for one reason or another, your property just isn’t a good location. Don’t despair, because someone else in your community might have an excellent site to put one or more turbines, where the wind always seems to blow. And if you can attract enough support from area residents, you may be able to install a medium to large-scale, locally owned wind farm that can benefit everyone in the community. Impossible? Not at all. In fact, this strategy has been used successfully for many years in Europe and is the foundation of the Danish wind industry, long recognized as a world leader in wind energy.

During the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo and subsequent oil crises of the 1970s, there was a flurry of wind turbine activity in the United States and some significant advances were made in the technology. But in the early 1980s, when the Reagan administration dismantled the energy tax credits and incentives that had encouraged the installation of renewable energy systems nationwide, the U.S. wind power industry collapsed.

Denmark, on the other hand, understood the incredible long-term potential for wind power. In 1980, a newly elected government offered a 30 percent subsidy for the construction of new wind energy projects, and after a 20-year partnership between government and industry, more than 100,000 households (nearly 5 percent of the population) own one or more shares in a nearby turbine.

What most Americans don’t know is that the vast majority of wind installations in Denmark were composed of small groups or clusters of mid-sized turbines, not the huge wind farms found in the United States. And these Danish wind turbines were operated by farmers, homeowners and small businesses, either independently or, more frequently, as cooperative ventures. There were three key components to the Danish wind initiative:

  1. Laws to allow wind power developers to connect to the electrical grid. 
  2. The legal requirement that utilities purchase the wind-generated electricity. 
  3. A guaranteed fair price. 

These requirements removed the biggest hurdles to developing the wind industry in Denmark. As a result, the initiative was spectacularly successful for many years. This same cooperative strategy also can be found in other northern European countries, especially Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and, more recently, the United Kingdom. Communities in these countries have clearly shown that medium to large-sized wind turbines can be used to power farms, homes and businesses at a scale between the individual homeowner installation and large commercial wind farms.

The experience of community wind in Denmark and Germany is particularly instructive. Not only are the wind turbines, or clusters of turbines, distributed across the landscape, the ownership is spread across hundreds of thousands of individual participants. A quarter of the wind generating capacity in Denmark has been developed by windmill guilds (or vindmølleaug) roughly equivalent to what would be called cooperatives in North America. And in Germany, as much as one-third of the nation’s wind capacity has been built by associations of local landowners and residents, also known as Bürgerbeteiligung. Individual German investors have installed as much as 4,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity, an investment of over $4.8 billion. About 200,000 people in Germany own shares of a local wind turbine.

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