Wind Energy Basics

How big is a wind turbine?

Utility-scale wind turbines for land-based wind farms come in various sizes, with rotor diameters ranging from about 50 meters to about 90 meters, and with towers of roughly the same size. A 90-meter machine, definitely at the large end of the scale at this writing (2005), with a 90-meter tower would have a total height from the tower base to the tip of the rotor of approximately 135 meters (442 feet).

Offshore turbine designs now under development will have larger rotors—at the moment, the largest has a 110-meter rotor diameter—because it is easier to transport large rotor blades by ship than by land.

Small wind turbines intended for residential or small business use are much smaller. Most have rotor diameters of 8 meters or less and would be mounted on towers of 40 meters in height or less.  (AWEA)

Do Wind turbines kill birds and create serious environmental impacts? 

Bird kills have caused serious scientific concern at only one location in the United States: Altamont Pass in California, one of the first areas in the country to experience significant wind development. Over the past decade, the wind community has learned that wind farms and wildlife can and do coexist successfully. Wind energy development’s overall impact on birds is extremely low (<1 of 30,000) compared to other human-related causes, such as buildings, communications towers, traffic, and house cats. Birds can fly into wind turbines, as they do with other tall structures. However, conventional fuels contribute to air and water pollution that can have far greater impact on wildlife and their habitat, as well as the environment and human health.  (NREL)

Are Wind turbines noisy? 

Modern wind turbines produce very little noise. The turbine blades produce a whooshing sound as they encounter turbulence in the air, but this noise tends to be masked by the background noise of the blowing wind. An operating modern wind farm at a distance of 750 feet to 1000 feet is no more noisy than a kitchen refrigerator. (NREL)

How many homes can one megawatt of wind energy supply?

An average U.S. household uses about 10,655 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity each year. One megawatt of wind energy can generate from 2.4 to more than 3 million kWh annually. Therefore, a megawatt of wind generates about as much electricity as 225 to 300 households use. It is important to note that since the wind does not blow all of the time, it cannot be the only power source for that many households without some form of storage system. The “number of homes served” is just a convenient way to translate a quantity of electricity into a familiar term that people can understand. (Typically, storage is not needed, because wind generators are only part of the power plants on a utility system, and other fuel sources are used when the wind is not blowing. According to the U.S. Department of Energy , “When wind is added to a utility system, no new backup is required to maintain system reliability.” Wind Energy Myths, Wind Powering America Fact Sheet Series, .)  (AWEA)

How much land is needed for a utility-scale wind plant?

In open, flat terrain, a utility-scale wind plant will require about 60 acres per megawatt of installed capacity. However, only 5% (3 acres) or less of this area is actually occupied by turbines, access roads, and other equipment–95% remains free for other compatible uses such as farming or ranching. In California, Minnesota, Texas, and elsewhere, wind energy provides rural landowners and farmers with a supplementary source of income through leasing and royalty arrangements with wind power developers.  (AWEA)