Frequently Asked Wind Energy Questions:
- How much wind energy is installed in the United States?
- What would meeting the Governor's wind goal of 2,000 MW by 2020 mean?
- How many homes can a wind turbine power?
- How much carbon dioxide does a wind energy turbine offset?
- What is a capacity factor and what does it mean for wind power?
- What factors determine the viability of a wind energy turbine?
- How much wind potential is there in Massachusetts?
- Where are the best onshore winds in Massachusetts?
- Do wind tubines harm birds and bats?
- Do wind turbines have any effect on health?
- What is a wind energy 'model bylaw'?
- What does the pending wind energy siting reform do? Does it destroy home rule?
- Does the state intend to sell all of its protected lands to develop 947 MW of wind?
- Why develop any onshore wind energy? Why not just do energy efficiency, solar, or offshore wind?
- Why does wind energy receive so many subsidies?
- Aren't wind turbines ugly?
- A private developer wants to build a wind energy farm next door. Will this reduce my property values?
- Does wind energy require large tracts of land to be cleared or deforested?
- Where can I find more information about wind energy in Massachusetts?
- 29,440 Megawatts (MW) of wind energy are currently installed in the United States, and an additional 5,866 MW are under construction.
- Over 8,500 MW were installed in the US in 2008 (just beating out China with 6,300 MW). This represents:
- 50 percent increase from 2007
- 42 percent of all new generating capacity installed in 2008
- $17 billion investment
- 44 million tons of carbon emissions avoided (equivalent of 7 million cars)
- 35,000 new jobs
- Approximately 85,000 people worked in the wind energy industry in 2008, up from 50,000 in 2007.
- Wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world. The United States surpassed Germany last year to become the world leader in wind energy installed; 121,188 MW of wind energy were installed globally by the end of 2008, with that number expected to increase to 152,000 MW by the end of 2009.
- Wind energy has experienced 25 percent annual growth globally since 1990.
- In spite of the rapid growth, wind projects installed through the end of 2008 account for only 1.25 percent of our national electricity supply, but the US Department of Energy released a report last year stating that wind energy could comprise 20 percent of the United States supply of electricity by the year 2030 with existing technology.
It would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas for electricity generation, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and create economic development and green jobs. 2,000 MW of wind on land and offshore would:
- Generate enough electricity to power over 800,000 homes
- Meet 10 percent of the state's electricity load with clean, renewable energy
- Reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 12 percent, or approximately 3.1 million tons
A single 1 MW turbine on land can provide enough electricity to power 225 to 300 households. A single 1 MW turbine in an offshore wind farm, where the wind blows harder and more consistently, can power more than 400 households,.
- Capacity factor describes the relationship between how much energy an electricity generator actually produces compared with how much the generator could produce if it was in constant operation at maximum capacity. Capacity factor is usually expressed as a percent (actual generation/potential generation). Conventional generators usually burn fuel , so they can run around the clock, and are generally limited in production only by down time for maintenance, so their capacity factors range from 40 to 90 percent for baseload power plants.
- Wind is an intermittent, or variable, energy source (i.e., wind energy turbines only produce energy when the wind is blowing strongly enough). Capacity factors for wind energy usually range from 20 to 40 percent.
Several factors affect the viability of a wind energy project at a particular location - the major ones are listed below:
- Wind Speed
- Proximity to airport
- Proximity to residences
- Transportation access
- Distance to transmission lines
- Environmental issues such as endangered species or wetlands
Plenty. Wind energy, especially offshore wind, is one of the most abundant sources of renewable energy in Massachusetts. There are 1,500 MW of onshore technical potential in Massachusetts and slightly over 6,000 MW of offshore technical potential.
Although there are locations scattered across Massachusetts that are conducive to wind energy development, wind resources are particularly abundant along the coast and on ridgelines in central and western Massachusetts.
- In certain circumstances, wind turbines can have adverse impacts on wildlife. Birds and bats may fly into the moving blades of a turbine, resulting in mortalities, but wind energy turbines are low on the list of threats to birds and bats.
- A 2007 National Academy of Sciences report in regards to the effects of wind energy on birds and bats found that existing wind turbines are not a threat to bird populations.
- Changes in habitat brought about by climate change, which is mitigated by replacing fossil fuel use with renewable power, are a significant threat to avian and bat populations.
Health concerns raised about wind turbines include:
- Sound: Wind turbines are surprisingly quiet, considering they are large, rotating structures. Noise impacts are regulated by municipalities as well as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), and should not be a factor for wind projects sited an appropriate distance from residences.
- Visual: The rotation of the wind turbine blades can cast a moving shadow, called "flicker," when the sun is in a particular position in the sky. An adequate buffer zone between a residence and a turbine can avoid this potential problem.
There are thousands of wind turbines installed in the United States, and no credible, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence has been published to date identifying any syndromes or diseases caused by wind energy turbines.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has developed a model wind bylaw for municipalities that do not have existing zoning bylaws adequate for wind turbines. The bylaw provides a series of guidelines that a town can adopt to facilitate the responsible siting of wind turbines.
- The proposed Wind Energy Siting Reform Act will address several of the regulatory challenges wind energy projects have historically faced in Massachusetts. The Green Communities Act of 2008 created an energy facilities siting advisory commission charged with determining "whether current laws and regulations do not adequately facilitate the siting of renewable energy and alternative energy facilities" and whether such laws "make it more difficult to site renewable energy facilities than fossil-fueled energy facilities." The Act also tasked the commission to "make recommendations for changes to such laws and regulations." A report produced on behalf of the commission file size 2MB documented that wind projects have been difficult to develop in Massachusetts and that our process is more complicated, lengthy, and challenging than in neighboring states.
- Far from weakening home rule, the legislation is designed to support municipalities interested in developing wind energy responsibly, and develop a clear, transparent, and efficient process for the timely development of wind energy projects. The bill also mandates that environmentally protective statewide standards be developed to ensure that wind energy projects are sited in appropriate locations.
- The bill gives local boards authority to issue permits with reasonable conditions and to deny permits to projects that don't meet stringent new statewide siting standards, which will identify sites where they don't disturb residents or harm sensitive habitats.
- The bill strengthens local authority by preventing small bands of opponents from blocking projects that have the support of local communities, like the Hoosac wind project in the Berkshires, which has been tied up in appeals since 2001.
- The bill does allow for limited state overrides - an action now available for large power plants, most of them fossil-fuel - if local officials turn down a wind project that meets the statewide siting standards. But that decision can be appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court.
- Several nationally renowned environmental organizations are strong supporters of the Massachusetts Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, including:
- The Appalachian Mountain Club
- The Massachusetts Audubon Society
- The Conservation Law Foundation
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Union of Concerned Scientists
- Environmental League of Massachusetts
No. The Green Jobs Act of 2008 mandated that the state analyze the technical potential for renewable energy on lands and facilities owned by the Commonwealth. The resulting study showed that many state-owned lands could be potentially appropriate for wind power, solely based on their having a good wind resource. Many of these lands are protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution and any change in use would require a 2/3 vote of the Legislature. For certain parcels, however, wind development may prove to be an appropriate and compatible sustainable use of state lands alongside forestry and motorized off-road vehicles.
- The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 mandates that Massachusetts reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined that this rate of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is necessary to prevent irreparable climate change.
- A McKinsey Global Institute Study, in addition to other research, has shown that there is no 'magic bullet' - but that there are numerous measures that can and must be deployed at manageable costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels identified by IPCC and required by the Global Warming Solutions Act, including both renewable energy and efficiency.
- With authority granted by the Green Communities Act of 2008, the Patrick Administration is developing a nation-leading program of energy efficiency investments, to reduce costs as well as energy-related emissions, as well as increased renewable energy development (wind, solar, biomass).
- The Commonwealth also has a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that, as a result of the Green Communities Act, requires utilities to provide at least 15 percent of their generation from new renewable energy by 2020. This requirement will ensure that, while we reduce our demand for electricity, we also replace our sources of electricity with cleaner options.
- Congress has provided tax incentives for a variety of renewable power technologies in recognition of the strong public interest in furthering American energy independence and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuels and nuclear power plants also receive significant federal incentives.
- Like many states, Massachusetts supports renewable energy technologies including wind, solar, and biomass through its Renewable Portfolio Standard, and it also makes renewable energy projects eligible for grants and loans from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.
- Some people like how wind turbines look, while others do not. Several polls show that most people in Massachusetts, the United States, and Europe express support for wind energy.
- A University of Delaware study found that the majority of Cape Cod residents support the Cape Wind project.
A private developer wants to build a wind energy farm next door. Will this reduce my property value?
- There are no data or rigorous analysis that show a significant negative impact of wind installations on property values. There are some indications that wind turbines can be tourist attractions.
- A Federal Government funded study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that wind energy projects do not significantly lower property values Waste heat recovery file size 4MB .
- The Renewable Energy Policy Project also conducted an analysis that found no negative effects Waste heat recovery file size 4MB of wind turbines on real estate transactions.
- All forms of energy extraction and generation entail land use and habitat impacts, whether in terms of mineral extraction or emissions. Wind energy projects do not contaminate or pollute the land upon which they are built, or any adjacent waters.
- For wind energy, excavation and clearing are the primary land impacts. Three components of a wind energy project make up the majority of its footprint (listed in order from largest impact to least): access roads, tower foundations, and electrical equipment (e.g. transmission, transformer, etc.). Depending on terrain, some clearing may be required in order to build access roads or foundations, but wind energy projects can be built in forested areas without large amounts of clearing or road building. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind projects on ridgelines can require as little as 2 acres per megawatt. Land adjacent to wind energy projects can be used for other purposes, such as agriculture and forestry, with wind farms providing a source of income for land owners in the form of lease payments or royalties.
- Siting standards will protect forested areas and ensure that wind energy projects minimize habitat fragmentation.
Visit DOER's wind energy web page.
This information is provided by the Department of Energy Resources.