Major Wind-farm Siting Issues Facing Developers Today

A successful wind project

starts by selecting an optimum site and, for that, there are four key aspects of wind-farm siting, said Chris Parcell, Director of Feasibility and Development at SgurrEnergy. The first is to inspect the land and determine whether it is possible to obtain construction permits. Next, a developer must analyze the wind resource at the site. This involves measuring wind speed to ensure it can
generate enough energy to create revenue, and deciding on which turbines will work longest and require the least possible maintenance.

A developer then has to examine the grid connection, which is necessary to export power and earn revenue. The costs and capacities of a grid connection vary depending on location.

Finally, environmental restraints must be weighed. Constraints may include ecological concerns, noise, shadow flicker, and visual impact.

When siting a location for a wind farm, several protocols are worth observing for success. Most important is conducting a professional wind-measurement campaign.

“Wind measurements are needed to determine the economic viability of the project, as well as to determine the suitability of the turbine design for a site,” said Jay Haley, Principal in Charge of Wind Energy at consulting firm EAPC. To obtain the most reliable data possible, developers should use quality instruments to collect data at the wind-turbine hub height for at least one full year prior to installation.

As wind turbines get taller and blades longer, it is critical to measure wind speeds at hub height and within the vertical profile of the swept area of the blade. Failure to obtain accurate wind measurements could jeopardize the chances of getting turbines certified for a site. (Photo: Joy Powers)

Parcell added that developers must also carry out an environmental impact assessment, which is typically required by the permitting authority and financial institutions. These surveys consist of studying the ecology and ornithology of the site, peat probing (a soil analysis), noise modeling, and visual studies. The goal is to avoid or minimize potential impacts on the environment.

The available transmission capacity is also important to inspect, said Haley. Depending on the upgrades or additions necessary to accommodate the wind farm, the transmission connection could be a major cost item, which feeds into the financial feasibility of the site.

Parcell explained several other sensitive features worthy of consideration in siting protocols, such as the internal track layout and access points to the site based on its topography and site survey results. Together, all of this information can help accurately determine the optimal turbine layout for the site.

Developers are often met with challenges when performing site assessments. “Wind development is a complex and expensive process,” Haley said. “Bad decisions made early on can have expensive or even disastrous consequences later on.”

With this in mind, developers must understand that each site will present unique problems depending on the requirements of authorities and financial institutions. To help combat issues that arise, it is important to plan ahead and devise specific plans of action.

Another important task for developers is to strategically identify and solve challenges early on in the development process. Common issues include reducing the effect of wind turbines on aviation radar, managing forestry to maintain the safety of animals, and compensating residents on or near a proposed wind farm, said Parcell. Developers must also understand the  requirements of banks and lenders whom they are working with to avoid costly delays.

During the development of a wind farm, it is also necessary to involve the community in the process. “Communities are important stakeholders in wind-farm developments because they could be directly affected in many ways, such as by construction, traffic, visual impact, or noise,”
added Parcell.

What’s more, with local support of a project, it is easier for developers to secure land leases and permits. It is common to see a planning committee determine wind-farm planning applications. These committees are typically made of elected members of the community who will represent the views of their constituents, which emphasizes the importance of gaining local support.

Wind development comes with its own unique and often subtle development challenges that can easily make or break a project. A full understanding of those subtle industry differences can save time, cost, and potential pitfalls when developing a new wind farm. (Photo: Joy Powers)

This article was published in the December 2016 issue of Windpower Engineering & Development magazine