Community Wind Handbook/Conduct Siting Due Diligence
Conduct Siting Due Diligence
A successful large community wind project requires an ideal location to site the project. In this handbook, siting is divided into two categories: preliminary and late-stage.
Preliminary siting allows for immediate site-related concerns to be addressed prior to large monetary or time investments. The preferred site for a large community wind project offers large parcels of open land with a strong wind resource. If your location meets this minimum requirement, further research of the project site can begin.
Since wind energy projects can be sited on 10 to 80 acres per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity, an understanding of the land use and ownership of your development’s location is an important step. Large community wind projects can be sited on land owned by multiple individuals; thus it is vital to engage surrounding property owners to determine general attitudes regarding wind energy, whether or not they would like to be involved in the project, as well as current and planned use of the property.
Land lease payments (a.k.a. royalty payments, operational payments, or land use fees) can be one of the largest operations and maintenance costs in a project’s operational pro forma. It is important to understand the concerns related to securing land leases based on what the project can afford to pay while providing investors an attractive return on investment. Securing these land rights will require time and effort, and it is important to enlist legal guidance to ensure that state and local laws are followed and that the property owners' rights are respected throughout the process. Attorneys will also ensure that land agreements provide sufficient rights to permit the development, construction, operations and maintenance, and decommissioning of your large community wind project.
An additional concern regarding a potential location is whether the land is owned by a private individual or the state or federal government. In general, private ownership tends to simplify the overall permitting process. If any part of your project is connected to federal land (including the point of interconnection, the transmission line, or substation), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) becomes applicable, which can extend the project schedule and increase costs.
Preliminary siting should also include determining access to transmission for your large community wind project. Noting which landowners control land between the proposed site and point of interconnection should be a priority in the land leasing process.
Connecting to an existing substation could provide significant savings since the installation of new transmission lines can be expensive and requires additional utility cooperation; therefore, locations with nearby transmission access are considered beneficial to a large community wind project's overall success. It should be noted that the cost of transmission lines typically increases as the voltage capacity increases (lower voltage typically equals lower cost). Smaller community wind projects can typically use lower-voltage transmission lines, which can equate to overall cost savings.
Late-stage siting should be conducted once the resource has been assessed and the project is deemed feasible. Late-stage siting includes site-specific characteristics regarding access, terrain, slope, vegetation, soil conditions, etc.
- Project developers should avoid steep slopes that are difficult to build on and can increase project costs. Slopes may have turbulent winds that can impact wind turbines over time.
- Turbines should be sited at a distance 20 or more times the height of surrounding structures or vegetation upwind of the installation. There must be enough room at the site to accommodate suggested distances between turbines and potential obstructions.
- An initial evaluation of the soil conditions in the area can be conducted by reviewing published data such as geology maps, soil survey maps, highway department records, and other reports, studies, and maps. This evaluation can help inform decisions regarding the foundations for the project.
- After the initial evaluation, a geotechnical engineer can conduct a desktop evaluation to determine whether geologic hazards (sinkholes, swelling soils, collapsing soils, underground mining, surface mining, surface spoils from mining, landslides, earthquake issues, volcanic activity, etc.) are prevalent at the site since they can impact wind turbine foundations.
- A soil analysis conducted by a geotechnical engineer will help finalize the foundation design needed for the turbines used in your large community wind project.
- Public roads leading to the project and site access roads are key to transporting equipment and constructing a wind project. Interconnections that allow a wide turning radius are required, and site access roads might need to be improved prior to project installation or may need to be repaired after project completion. Site access roads with suitable grading to allow crane access will also be required for each turbine site.
- If access roads are already available to get components to the installation sites, this could be a benefit because there will be no additional costs. If no access roads are available, they must be built and maintained for the life of the project.
The compilation of project-specific data into a Geographic Information System (GIS) should begin early in the development process. The information collected will include elements from early project development, including early and late-stage siting.
A relatively simple GIS analysis technique involves combining data layers to summarize spatial information. According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and WINDExchange, the following information should be collected for a GIS analysis:
- Wind resource maps
- Land ownership maps (plat maps)
- Terrain data
- Project boundaries
- Water bodies
- Roads and paths
- Land cover data
- Land use data
- Proposed and existing transmission line and substation locations
- Competing wind projects
- Permitting requirements
- Radar and airspace restrictions.
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- "Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. Negotiating Wind Energy Property Agreements"
- "Stoel Rives, LLP. The Law of Wind: A Guide to Business and Legal Issues"
- "Energy Trust of Oregon. Community Wind: An Oregon Guidebook"
- "Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Cost of Transmission for Wind Energy: A Review of Transmission Planning Studies"
- "altenergymag. In Support of Wind Energy: The Foundations that Underlie Wind Projects"
- "New York State Energy Research Development Authority. Wind Resource Assessment Handbook"