As more developers opt to diversify their portfolios, we’re seeing increased interest in more sustainable sources of energy. Transitioning from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to other energy sources helps to reduce our emissions while meeting ongoing electricity demand—and gets us closer to reaching climate goals. With renewable energy technology continuing to grow in popularity, we’ve launched a blog series focusing on different energy sources and best practices to consider before and during development.
What is wind energy?
Wind energy has been used for centuries, but windmills have now been replaced with wind turbines. As the sun unevenly heats the earth across topographical variations like mountains and valleys, wind is produced. When that wind reaches a turbine, it rotates the blades. The rotational energy generated by the blades is transferred to a generator to produce electrical energy. The electricity created can be used immediately, stored in batteries, or transferred to the grid to power homes and buildings.
Wind turbines can be placed both onshore and offshore, either as stand-alone units or placed together with multiple other turbines in wind farms. Typically, larger wind farms are placed in especially windy locations, like mountaintops or certain areas offshore. Small wind turbines produce enough electricity to power a home, while larger wind turbines and wind farms can store and capture electricity to be distributed through the grid.
Wind power capacity has grown steadily over time; in the US, capacity has increased 30% year over year for the past 10 years. As a result, wind energy is the most commonly used form of renewable energy, generating 9.2% of all electricity in the US. That number is expected to continue to grow, thanks to numerous incentives and government policies. In particular, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act extends the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for wind projects through 2024. Increased credit amounts and bonus tax incentives are available for projects that meet certain requirements.
What are some of the benefits of wind energy?
Wind energy is the most popular form of alternative energy, and it offers numerous benefits. First, wind is naturally—and constantly—produced; it can never be depleted and will always be available to power wind turbines. In addition, compared to other forms of renewable energy, it is less expensive to access; for instance, geothermal energy can require drilling into the ground to access stored heat, and operations can grow nearly as costly as those for oil and gas operations.
And as a renewable energy source, wind energy produces much lower emissions than other forms of energy—in fact, zero emissions. Wind turbines do not release emissions as they run, nor do they consume water to cool equipment. That said, the creation of turbines does have some environmental impact due to the metals and other materials that must be mined to manufacture wind turbine components.
Finally, wind energy is available across the US, and the US Department of Energy’s Wind Vision Report suggests that offshore wind could be available in all coastal regions across the country by 2050. This kind of availability eliminates the need to import other more-polluting fuel sources, negotiate contracts across borders, or jeopardize energy availability due to international disputes. With wind energy, we gain a domestic source of clean, renewable energy that can be relied on for centuries.
What do wind energy projects entail?
Wind turbines are massive: each individual blade is roughly 116 feet long. Consequently, a lot of land is required to create a utility-scale wind farm. Developers may lease unusable land on farm acreage, like areas that are too rocky, high, or difficult to access to use for crops or livestock. Other areas, like offshore acreage, are leased from the federal government specifically for offshore wind projects. In both cases, wind leases are required to secure the appropriate land and air rights.
Before any leases are negotiated, the developer or its representatives should meet with large landowners and key stakeholders in the community (e.g. the mayor and the head of the agricultural association) to discuss developing a wind farm in the area. Without local support, a wind farm will typically not get developed in the US. It is not recommended to conduct costly wind studies before winning community backing.
Next, the developer must conduct feasibility studies to evaluate wind speeds and topography for each potential target area. A wind farm site must have a combination of sustained wind speeds and suitable topography for turbine installation.
At the same time, the availability and complexity of the land piece must be considered: Is the land dedicated to another use that is incompatible with a wind farm? Who owns the surface rights? How many parcels need to be leased? These questions are answered through title and public records research.
Once a target site has been decided, the developer will work with the land team to draft the terms of the wind lease. The land team will run title on each target parcel to determine ownership and negotiate the leases with each property owner. As part of this process, the land team will also negotiate with adjacent landowners to secure easements to access the turbines and run power lines to transport electricity between the turbines and the grid.
Securing permitting and zoning approvals is another step in the development of a wind project. Permit and zoning requirements vary by state. Certain sites require environmental studies if they are in or near sensitive areas.
The need for wind energy is expected to grow substantially in the future. In fact, total wind capacity is projected to be 404.25 GW in 2050, nearly a 400% increase in capacity compared to 2020. And as more developers take advantage of the abundance and environmental benefits of wind energy, we’ll see a growing need for additional acreage both on and offshore.
Cinco supports companies across the US with land and title issues related to oil and gas, renewable energy development, legal matters, insurance underwriting and more.
This is part of our introductory series on renewable energy, covering geothermal, solar, wind, and battery storage.
For more information about wind energy projects or for answers to questions on the land acquisition and development process, reach out to us.
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