By the end of 2008, a combination of environmental, economic, and policy factors resulted in the cumulative deployment of more than 25 gigawatts (GW) of wind generation capacity in the United States (AWEA 2009a). Continued growth is anticipated due to renewable portfolio standards and expected constraints on carbon emissions in the electric sector. One of the concerns regarding large-scale deployment of wind energy is its potentially significant land use. Estimates of land use in the existing literature are often based on simplified assumptions, including power plant configurations that do not reflect actual development practices to date. Land-use descriptions for many projects are available from various permitting agencies and other public sources, but we are not aware of any single source that compiles or summarizes this data. In addition, there is limited information comparing land use for wind power plants across different terrain and plant configurations. The existing data and analyses limit the effective quantification of landuse impacts for existing and future wind energy generation, particularly in comparison to other electricity generation technologies.
In this report, we provide data and analysis of the land use associated with modern, large wind power plants (defined as greater than 20 megawatts (MW) and constructed after 2000). We begin by discussing standard land-use metrics as established in the life-cycle assessment literature, and then discuss their applicability to wind power plants. We identify two major “classes” of wind plant land use: 1) direct impact (i.e., disturbed land due to physical infrastructure development), and 2) total area (i.e., land associated with the complete wind plant project). We also provide data for each of these classes, derived from project applications, environmental impact statements, and other sources. We also attempt to identify relationships among land use, wind plant configuration, and geography. We evaluated 172 existing or proposed projects, which represents more than 26 GW of capacity.
In addition to providing land-use data and summary statistics, we identify several limitations to the existing wind project area data sets, and suggest additional analysis that could aid in evaluating actual land use and impacts associated with deployment of wind energy