Running Out of Room for Wind Farms?

John Davis

There are concerns that the best areas for wind energy farms have been taken up, and that could be slowing development of wind energy in this country.

This piece in Renewable Energy World International Magazine talks about how it’s getting too hard to find large areas of land with strong and steady winds that have a welcoming community and easy access to transmission:

‘When I talk to developers, this is their biggest issue of concern at the moment. The best spots are taken’, said Joanne Howard, vice consul (Energy) at UK Trade & Investment with the British Consulate-General in Houston, Texas.

With the prime wind sites gone – or disappearing quickly – where does the wind industry go from here?

So far developers in fast-growing markets have been able to overcome the problem by pursuing short-term innovations to improve lesser sites or capture niche markets. In some cases, they are realigning their development queue and focusing on projects in untapped countries. In short, they are rethinking their approach. As Javier Mateache, CEO of Gestamp Wind North America puts it: ‘The answer is not blowing in the wind, but in our brains and hands.’

In the US, a lack of transmission continues to be a primary restraint to the growth of onshore wind farms. The US has land aplenty with strong wind, but it remains undeveloped for lack of a way to get the power to market. Transmission lines cost roughly US$1 million per mile to build in the US. Given that prime wind sites are often far from where the wind power is needed, the price tag is hefty and the federal government has yet to resolve who will pay the bill. Wind developers shy away from proposing wind farms where no transmission yet exists and utilities don’t want to put money into building transmission unless they know a generator stands ready to use the lines. Wind industry insiders call this the transmission chicken and egg dilemma.

In addition to the issue of getting the power from the areas producing it to the areas needing it, farmers have become more savvy about the value of their fields where the wind turbines and transmission lines would be located. The fact that power lines would have to go through multiple jurisdictions is also deterring some companies some jumping in.

The article goes on to say the solution might be more, smaller wind farms closer to population areas, and more importantly, closer to the transmission infrastructure.