How to Install a Wind Turbine

Wind turbines harness kinetic energy and convert it to electricity.

There are no greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous waste byproducts or water impacts associated with wind turbines. Wind turbines are generally located in remote areas where there is a fairly consistent supply of wind, but small wind turbine systems can be installed to generate electricity for your home if certain requirements are met.

Analyze wind supply. Wind speeds are greater at increasing heights. The National Renewable Energy Lab has measured wind resources 160 to 320 feet above ground across the United States. The resulting map shows that the best spots for wind energy production are in the Great Lakes region, the Northern California coast and the Eastern seaboard. Other suitable areas include the Gulf Coast and most Midwestern states. Annual average wind speeds of 9.8 to 11.5 mph are required for to make a wind turbine cost-effective.

Analyze finances. A wind turbine that produces 10 kilowatts costs $40,000 installed. Permitting fees can range from $400 to $1,600. The installation cost is less than with solar panels, but the payback period is longer. It is very important to research federal, state and local credit incentives to determine whether your initial expenses can be decreased. A good place to start research is your local building permit office.

Get necessary permits. Wind turbines are tall structures that require a building permit. Height provisions in your building code may prohibit wind turbines; however, many municipalities will grant variances. A lot of information is necessary for a wind turbine permit or variance. For example, California permits require:

  1. Height restrictions of 65 feet for turbines on 1 to 5 acres and 80 feet for turbines on 5-plus acres, not to ever exceed 80 feet.
  2. System components, including guy wires, must be 30 feet away from property boundaries.
  3. Noise from turbines cannot exceed 60 decibels heard at your closest neighbor.
  4. All turbine equipment must be obtained from a certified supplier.
  5. An engineering analysis must show compliance with the building code.
  6. An electrical analysis must show compliance with the national electric code.
  7. Proximity to airport runways requires FAA notification.
  8. For grid connection, utility agreements must be in place.

Permits may also require notification of your neighbors, which should be done as early as possible in the installation process.

Connect the wind turbine to the grid. The national grid can be connected via a special electric meter. It must be connected by a licensed electrician with prior approval from the utility, which has specific safety and quality of power requirements. For instance, the grid requires alternating current (AC) as opposed to direct current (DC) electricity, which is supplied by the wind turbine but can be converted using an inverter. The utility will also require that you have a battery to store unused energy. The special electric meter is designed to spin both ways, increasing as you use power from the grid and decreasing as you supply power to the grid.

Warning

  • Do research on financial incentives for alternative energy. Research local codes and regulations; even with federal tax credits, wind turbines may be prohibited in your municipality by your local zoning board or building code.

Resources

About the Author

Diane Bacher is a certified business energy professional with more than 16 years of experience in the environmental and energy sector. She has written numerous data and regulatory compliance reports for industrial, financial, educational and information-technology clients. Bacher's publications include the New Jersey Technology Council's "Tech News."