When I drove past a wind farm recently, I wondered what the planning process for a wind energy project consists of. So, I did some more digging to find out exactly how a wind farm is designed.
How is a wind farm designed? There are several factors that go into the planning and construction of a wind farm. These factors include the steps that must be taken to gain planning approval as well as creating a practical layout for the wind turbines following a certain set of guidelines for safety and efficiency.
The wind energy business has been considered a valuable investment for several years, due to the fast construction timeline of a wind farm as well as the rewarding return on investment that comes with a large project.
So, how is a wind farm designed and what exactly goes into a wind energy project of this size?
Related: Where Can a Wind Turbine Be Build?
The Initial Planning Stages of a Wind Farm
During the beginning stages of a wind farm project, there is a long list of factors that must be considered before submitting the plans for approval. Attention to detail is increasingly important during these steps because every decision you make in the planning stages of your wind farm will directly affect the overall outcome of your investment.
One of the first things to consider at the beginning of a wind farm design is the maximum energy capacity the project will be able to export each year once it is built. These calculations will include locating nearby power grids and figuring out how and where the energy will be distributed to nearby consumers.
It is also important to understand exactly how much land will be required to build the farm on and where the exact boundaries will be. This is a vital step in gaining approval for planning and construction.
Once these limits are defined, the developers will be able to plan the rough layout of the turbines within the wind farm.
Next, wind farm developers must assess the location for nearby homes that could potentially be affected by shadow flickers from the spinning blades, as well as the noises that could be given off to people and animals in the community and how the placement of the wind turbines will come off visually.
An important factor that goes into wind turbine planning also includes the nearby animals and the negative effects they could be plagued with. For example, an offshore wind farm located in London, England was denied an expansion request due to the concern for the large amounts of sea birds that fly through the area.
It has been a well-known fact for years that is backed up by scientific research that birds suffer frequent injury and death by the blades of wind turbines, so it is very important to limit these statistics as much as possible when designing a wind farm or any kind of wind energy project in these specific areas.
The developers of a new wind farm project should also be aware that there are minimum requirements for the spacing between each wind turbine for maximum safety and optimum energy production rates.
The Space That Is Required Between Wind Turbines
In addition to the stages of planning that wind energy developers must go through before being able to begin the construction of their wind farm, there are guidelines that should be acknowledged when the official site plan is sketched out.
Fortunately for the investor, there is not a lot of space required to start a wind farm business and begin building turbines, to begin with. This is actually one of the main reasons why an investment in the wind energy industry is so desirable to a lot of people.
Additionally, since wind turbines are vertical objects that stand upright on their own towers, multiple machines can fit closely next to each other because they are longer length-wise than their total width.
In general, each wind turbine requires approximately 300 feet of space around it in order to operate effectively and to not interfere with other turbines or objects that obstruct their field of reach. Even though this could technically be less since this value depends on the diameter of one rotor blade multiplied by 7, but the general rule is a 300-foot minimum distance.
There are logical reasons behind these limits that are enforced by the manufacturers of each individual wind turbine. These limits exist in order to help each machine achieve their maximum level of efficiency. When too many wind turbines are placed too close together, they can potentially block the wind from the other machines in a way.
Even though it is impossible for any amount of wind turbines to intake all of the wind from the other machines, they can slow down its momentum when they take the kinetic energy from it as the breeze passes through their rotating blades.
When all turbines have an adequate amount of space between them, interference will not be an issue and each machine should be able to convert as much energy as it possibly can at all times. This will avoid a loss of money for the developer and investors in the event of insufficient energy output as well as assist in creating a faster return on investment for everyone involved in the project.
These limits are also enforced by the manufacturers to avoid premature damage and unnecessary wear and tear that can happen to the machines if they do not have enough room to operate freely. This reason is fairly obvious, being that the wind turbines should not be so close together that they don’t have room to perform their functions.
Turbines that are within reach of each other could potentially cause a lot of damage when the wind comes into play and their blades interfere or collide. Since the blades of a wind turbine can reach extremely high speeds, some of them up to 180 miles per hour, there would be significant damage to both wind turbines as well as anything in close vicinity of the machines in the event of the blades crashing together in a storm.
Several years ago, there was a video that surfaced in the United Kingdom of a wind turbine that exploded in a storm due to a combination of emergency brake failure and continuous push from the wind. Although this is not a common occurrence among wind turbines and it is something that has only been reported once, something similar to this event could potentially happen if two wind turbines were stopping each other’s blades for too long due to interference.
How Wind Farms Can Affect Nearby Farms: Factors To Consider
Another reason why it is so important to consider the location in which a new wind farm project will be built is the negative effects that can be experienced by cattle and livestock that live in nearby farms. It is common for wind turbines and wind farms to be built within close proximities to cattle farms, due to the large open space and grassy fields that they are usually located on.
It is also a common occurrence for landowners and farmers to offer some of their lands up for rent to wind turbine owners already have an existing farm with animals.
Although there is no direct research that has focused on this topic and come up with anything solid to support these claims, there have been stories over the years that cattle and livestock have suffered negative side effects when wind turbines were newly built on the same farm they lived on.
It has been reported that, along with the loud sound effects that occur when the turbines’ blades begin to spin at rapid speeds, the turbines can produce infrasound rays that transfer to the animals on the farm and cause them to display changes in behavior.
The possible changes in animal behavior include eating, sleeping, and reproductive patterns that they normally followed before the appearance of the wind turbines. Countless farmers all over the world have told stories about their animals suffering injuries or even deaths in large quantities shortly after wind turbines were built in the area.
Overall, the animals were just reported to have behaved very strangely after the wind turbines were installed and began generating electricity from the wind. It has even been reported that some house pets suffered negative effects due to nearby wind turbines that were never experienced before they were added to the equation.
There was even a book that was written by an esteemed doctor named Nina Pierpont in order to tell these individual stories in more detail and asses them from a scientific standpoint. The book is titled Wind Turbine Syndrome.
The widespread epidemic of the “wind turbine syndrome” has been huge in various locations all around the world for several years, with no specific rhyme or reason for the frequent and scattered claims. There have been signs of adverse effects of wind turbines on nearby farm animals from Taiwan all the way to France, with all different kinds of farm animals and household pets in between.
With no previous changes in the environment before the appearance of nearby wind farms, many people have jumped to the conclusion that the wind turbines must have caused these sudden injuries and deaths that were inflicted on their animals.
For this reason, developers of wind energy projects should be careful of the locations they choose to plan and build their new wind farms on. Along with the negative effects that are transferred onto cattle and farm animals from wind turbines, wind farm owners can potentially experience legal trouble due to the land they have chosen to operate their business on.
An example of this occurred several years ago when a French farmer sued a wind energy company because of the decrease in his cows’ milk production. This ended up costing him tons of money and also caused him to lose out on a large percentage of his expected profits that would have been generated if his cows had been able to keep up with milk production numbers.
Additionally, there have been class-action lawsuits filed against new wind farms that have entered existing communities and have been unwanted by their long term residents.
The Horse Hollow Wind Farm, located between the Taylor and Nolan Counties in Texas, was constructed in 2005 with a total energy capacity of almost 800 megawatts. This massive project was constructed with an equally large budget, but the developers of the project were faced with a giant lawsuit not long after the farm was completed and open for business.
This specific project was the very first wind farm to have a nuisance lawsuit filed against it. The people in the area of the new wind farm complained about how the turbines looked near their community. Most of these locals owned and lived on properties with hundreds of acres of land that intertwined with the new farm.
However, the wind farm was protected in court when the judge did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs, even though they followed up with their original complaints with claims of loud noises the first time they lost the case.
Even landowners that do not have animals on a farm have shown hesitation to allow wind farms on their land or near their homes. Many people have concluded that if wind turbines can cause harm to farm animals and pets, they can definitely do the same thing to humans.
This was especially a concern among pregnant women since most of these animals suffered various reproductive issues from miscarriages to infertility over time.
How Wind Turbines Can Affect Nearby Homes: More Factors to Consider
Besides the effects that can be experienced by nearby farm animals, the construction of wind farms can also be much less than beneficial to humans as well. There is something called the Shadow Flicker Effect, or “Shadow Flicker” that is caused by wind turbine machines when they produce shadows that enter through windows and nearby barns.
This can become a nuisance to people who live in homes that are directly next to the wind turbine because they will frequently experience the flicker of shadows through their windows at various times of the day. This can become very annoying because the shadow flicker can cause strains in vision or even headaches to the people who are in the path of the flashing lights.
The Shadow Flicker Effect of wind turbines has been known to have caused several negative effects on the nearby people an animals that regularly experience the flashes.
One of the most common complaints that are in relation to the shadow flicker given off by a lot of wind turbines is the stress that it causes to the people who have to deal with it within their homes. Since wind turbines move with the speeds of the wind, there is no way to control them or turn them off when they become annoying.
In addition, the weather forecast is often unpredictable with no way of knowing exactly when the wind will be blowing. So, there is also no way to prepare for the effects that might come with the wind for those who live in the shadows of the enormous machines. The effects of shadow flicker can become increasingly severe at certain times of the day and of the year.
When the time of day gets closer to the early morning or late afternoon, the sun is usually placed at a very low position in the sky and gives off minimum light as a result. Usually, these times have a much higher volume of wind and will cause the wind turbines to spin even more than usual, letting off a shadow flicker into the windows of nearby homes.
In addition, the wind speeds can get increasingly faster or even become more frequent during the winter months when it is colder outside and the overall climate changes to reflect the lower temperatures in the atmosphere.
The effects that are caused by the shadow flicker effect have also been reported to affect nearby farm animals like cattle and horses that might be in the path of the bright lights between the blades of the towering turbines.
To be more specific, many owners of horses have claimed that the flickering lights can scare their horses and prevent them from grazing in the fields below the wind machines as they normally would. As a result, this can cause changes in growth and other behavior patterns in the animals, very similar to the effects of wind turbine syndrome.
The negative health and behavioral effects that can be caused by shadow flicker to both humans and animals are not limited to the short list of possibilities that have been mentioned so far.
Along with the annoyance and headaches that can come from the constant flickering lights being cast out by wind turbines, they can also cause depression in some people or put them at a higher risk to possibly become depressed.
The World Health Organization conducted research on this specific topic and concluded that the average risk for depression will be increased by a rate of forty percent in those who are affected by the shadow flicker of wind turbines. This is due to the visual disturbance that is frequently caused by the unusual lighting within nearby homes and facilities.
Furthermore, those who live in homes that are in the path of the shadow flicker effect usually do not keep their windows open to receive sunlight in their homes and constantly keep a good view of the world around them.
This is due to the annoyance of the constant shadow flicker that will cause most people to keep their curtains closed all of the time at some point when the effects of the lighting become too much to bear.
As proven in previous scientific studies, a deficiency of sunlight is directly linked to depression or the risk thereof. As a result, if those who experience the flickers caused by wind turbines are constantly keeping their windows closed tightly to avoid the nuisance that comes with the unstable lighting, they become more at risk for depression than they would be in most other living situations with the absence of shadow flicker.
Besides the overall annoyance that comes with the shadows as well as the stress of not being able to stop it, there is an even more severe risk that comes with the shadow flicker effect. This effect is the heightened risk for epilepsy seizures.
If the flashes that come through the window exceed a certain frequency, which is usually an average of three total flashes per second, the turbine could put the affected people at higher risk for seizures.
These limits should absolutely be acknowledged by the developer of any wind turbine or wind farm project, in order to program these frequencies into the wind turbine and avoid the negative health effects that can come with the flickering of shadows.
If the developer is in tune with these regulations, the wind farm project should not run into any problems along the way to opening for business. With the growing amount of complaints that have surrounded the shadow flicker effect that comes with wind turbines, there have been some proposed solutions to solve or at least relieve the problem slightly.
There have been systems created in order to more easily shut down the wind turbines in the event of an annoying shadow flicker that is bothering the nearby people and animals within the proximity.
On the other hand, there have been proposals of planting trees or large bushes directly in front of the wind turbines in order to obstruct the path between the potential shadow flicker and nearby facilities.
A general guideline has been set in place for wind energy developers not to build their projects within too close of a proximity to humans, and if there are more than 30 hours of shadow flicker within one year a solution to the problem should be initiated immediately.
What Kind of Tax Incentives Are Offered For Wind Turbine Purchases?
In recent years, it has been reported that the tax credit for wind turbines can cover up to 30 percent of the purchase price including delivery and installation. This applies to one main location as well as an additional place if necessary.
There are no limits to how many credits can be claimed up to the year 2021. For the same 10 kW wind turbine that was mentioned before with an estimated average purchase price of about $50,000 inclusive of delivery and installation, the tax credit could be up to $15,000.
This would cut down the entire cost of the wind energy project to almost half of what is initially paid.
How Much Does It Cost to Purchase and Build a Single Wind Turbine?
For the average wind turbine, the total purchase price will come out to anything from $45,000 to $65,000. The actual machine and equipment will be on the lower end of the price scale, close to the $40,000 mark. The delivery and installation, on the other hand, will be a completely separate cost that is added to the total purchase price.
These additional fees will most likely make a wind project increase to upwards of $70,000. Even though a wind turbine project requires a lot of capital up front, there are tax incentives that are offered by the government for any kind of wind turbine purchase and installation.
In fact, wind t turbine owners are able to get up to thirty percent of the total purchase price back as a tax credit at the end of the year. This can significantly drop the price of a wind project down to almost half of the purchase price.
Even better, this tax rule applies to any quantity of wind turbines at any location of your choice, as well as one additional location with no limits as to how many you can be reimbursed for.
Would it be Possible for the Wind to Ever Become a Depleted Resource?
Since the wind is one of the earth’s natural and renewable resources, it is impossible for it to ever completely run out. As long as the earth is spinning and the sun is shining, there will always be an abundance of wind blowing through the air.
However, there are some limitations that should be adhered to in order to make the most of the wind’s energy. When wind turbines spin their blades to collect the kinetic energy given off by the wind, they can significantly slow it down.
Therefore, too many wind turbines should not be placed too close together in order to achieve maximum efficiency for all machines. Additionally, methods of compressing air can be used to store excess wind energy for later dates when the wind is scarce and a higher energy demand must be met.
This is a great practice, considering the fact that the weather is unpredictable and it never hurts to be prepared.
If you’re serious about learning more about wind energy, I recommend the Wind Energy Handbook on Amazon. This book is great for both students and professionals, and it holds invaluable information on the subject of wind power.