Frequently Asked Questions
1) What is wind power?
Wind power is the result of using the wind to generate electricity. In the past windmills were used to grind grain or pump water. Today, a large wind turbine can power all the electricity needs of at least 350 homes. There are many different methods of producing electricity, including burning coal and other fossil fuels. Yet most of these ways hurt the environment by polluting the air and water, and releasing dangerous gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Wind power does not have these effects, which is why we call it a clean, Earth-friendly energy source.
2) How does a Wind Turbine Work?
If the wind is blowing hard enough, starting at 7 mph, the blades of a wind turbine will spin. The blades are connected to a drive shaft located in the nacelle, or the box on the top of the tower. As the blades turn, the drive shaft turns and produces electricity. The electricity flows down the tower and into a transformer located outside the turbine. Inside the transformer, the electricity from the turbine is converted into an electricity that we can use for power. The power flows to the project’s substation and then into a large power grid. From here, the wind generated electricity is sent through utility lines to its final destination.
3) Can you store the energy from a wind turbine?
Currently, there is not a cost effective way to store the energy that a wind turbine produces. Once the power generated from the wind is turned into electricity, it is directed to the electrical grid for immediate use by consumers.
4) How much electricity does one turbine produce?
Simply put, an average one megawatt wind turbine will produce enough energy for the annual needs of 350 average households. The amount of energy produced by a turbine varies depending on several factors, namely the size and reliability of the turbine, and the speed that the wind is blowing. These factors together produce the turbine’s capacity. Typically modern turbines range in size from 660 kilowatts to over 3 megawatts of capacity. They are placed in fairly windy locations with minimum wind speeds in the range of six meters per second (around 13 miles per hour). Wind turbines generally run at 30 to 40 percent capacity, so a 1 MW turbine could produce around 3 million KWh of electricity in a year.
5) How much land does the turbine take up?
The actual space that a turbine tower occupies is small, usually less than 100 square feet, but some towers require fenced-in enclosures for additional monitoring equipment, transformers, and other equipment.
6) How much does wind power cost?
Electricity generated by wind turbines typically costs around 5 cents per kWh. This is competitive with traditional sources of electrical generation and is the cheapest renewable energy source. Considering factors such as the rising cost of fossil fuels, the cost of pollution including greenhouse gasses, and the cost of site rehabilitation when a power plant closes, the cost of wind power is competitive with, and may actually be less than, fossil fuels. After a wind turbine is purchased and installed, the operating costs are minimal and the fuel is free.
7) How long does it take to build a project?
The time it takes to build a project varies with the size of the project, the number of turbines, and other factors. Most utility-size projects take over a year to complete. However, in certain cases, the construction time is much less. The 80 MW Llano Estacado Wind Ranch® at White Deer, for instance, took only three months to construct.
8) Is there an issue with bird mortality?
Migratory bird “flyways” make a minimal impact on bird populations. In fact, overhead high-voltage power lines, and automobiles pose significantly greater threats to birds than do wind turbines. Cielo Wind Power takes many steps to ensure that wind projects have minimal impact to birds. For instance, Cielo uses underground wires and tubular towers to eliminate bird perching, and U.V. reflective paint to make sure that birds see the turbines. Cielo also conducts avian studies so that turbines are not located in the way of migratory paths.
9) What is the noise like at a wind project?
Modern wind turbines produce almost no mechanical noise. Most of the noise produced by the turbine is from the swish of the blades slicing into the air, and even this is relatively low. Typical noise levels are less than 50 Db on the ground below the blades, equivalent to the sound of normal conversation.
10) How much wind power is currently being produced in the United States?
According to the American Wind Energy Association, the total U.S. production of wind power is around 6,740 megawatts. This is enough energy to power over 2 million US households.
11) How much wind power could the U.S. produce?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, all U.S. electrical energy needs could be met by the wind in Texas and the Dakotas alone.
12) What are some of the current legislation issues regarding wind power?
The Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a public policy currently passed by the state legislatures of ten states that promotes and requires the development and use of renewable energy. Additionally, many states provide incentives for individuals and companies that build or operate wind turbines. The national production tax credit is an important piece of legislation for the wind power industry. The tax credit makes wind power competitive with other energy sources. In March 2002, the production tax credit was extended to cover 2002-2003, and in September 2004 it was extended through 2005. Unfortunately, due to the uncertainty of further extensions, the wind industry has a difficult time planning future wind projects for fear that they will not be cost competitive.
13) How do I find out more information about small, home-based wind systems?
The American Wind Energy Association web site contains numerous manufacturer links and FAQ’s for small home-based wind systems, and you can subscribe to their Home Energy Systems Electronic Mailing List.
14) How can I help support wind power?
- Educate Yourself. Know and understand the benefits of renewable resources and you will be better prepared to explain them to your relatives, friends, and neighbors.
- Actively Advocate. Activism is an important part of the development of renewable resources. Vote for candidates who support wind power. Petition, write, call, fax, or email your elected officials. If you let them know how you feel, they will consider your position when the time comes for them to vote for legislation that favors renewable energy and specifically wind power.
- Use “Green Power.” While these actions will help shape the public debate and increase the acceptance of wind and other renewable sources of energy, the most important determinant of the success of wind power will be market acceptance. Many utility companies offer consumers the option of purchasing “Green Power” at a slightly increased rate. This is electricity generated from renewable sources. By making the choice to purchase renewable energy, you send the message to utility companies that you are concerned about the environment, and are willing to pay a little more to protect it. Furthermore, you can invest in the stock of publicly held wind development companies and turbine manufacturers. Additional capital allows these companies to develop new wind projects and create new and more efficient technologies.