How to Develop a Wind Farm

The Benefits of Wind Power

Wind powered electricity is relatively new in Ireland even though we have some of the best wind resources in Europe. Global environmental benefits of wind power include reduced greenhouse gas emissions and national benefits include security of supply from a locally sourced energy.

The development of a wind farm can provide opportunities at a local level also. Development can provide landowners with an alternative or supplementary income and can provide jobs locally during the construction and operational phases of the project. Tax receipts are generated as are local authority rates for collection and use within the region of the wind farm. If operated as a community scheme, those within the vicinity of the wind farm can benefit directly from the share dividends.

Is my site suitable?

Not all sites are suitable for wind farms, for either economic or environmental reasons. When assessing the suitability of a site both technical suitability and environmental suitability must be addressed. Key suitability criteria are outlined below:

Environmental suitability

  • Visual aspects
  • Proximity to dwellings
  • Ecological/archaeological/architectural protection
  • Recreational use
  • Restricted Areas

Technical suitability

  • Wind speed
  • Grid connection
  • Site size
  • Access
  • Ownership

It is important to discuss a proposed development with a Local Planner at an early stage to receive feedback for the plan and to identify the scope of the planning application and, where appropriate, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that should accompany the planning application. The development of a wind farm can be a long process and cannot be treated lightly so in order to ensure high quality development, professional services must be employed throughout the process.

Each local authority has developed a map where wind energy projects will be considered, are prohibited or are encouraged. This local authority wind strategy should be one of the first documents to refer to.

The Economics of Wind Farming

Wind farms differ in size and the location and scale of the project can dictate the economics for each site. Typical investment costs are in the region of €1.7 -€2m. The figure represents the total project cost, including the planning/EIS, equipment procurement, civil works, grid connection, commissioning, O&M and decommissioning costs.

Turbines generally account for between 65 and 75% of the total project costs. Financial institutions have in the past been willing to finance up to 85% of a wind farm project costs subject to several assurances. Recent reports suggest that 75% finance is more common in the current economic and banking climate. Local equity available through a shared or community developed wind farm may prove attractive for the project developers.

Financially viable: What the bank looks for

  • Verified wind data measured onsite
  • Power purchase agreement for energy produced
  • Full planning permission
  • Professional feasibility study
  • Site title
  • Experienced development team
  • Authorisation to construct a generator from the Regulator

Use Independent Professional support for

  • Pre-feasibility study
  • Feasibility and basic design
  • Wind measurement and assessment
  • EIS and Planning application
  • Landscape classification
  • Lease/Loan/shareholder agreements
  • Attaining grid connection
  • Power purchase agreements
  • EPC agreements
  • O&M agreements
  • Insurance

Building a Wind Farm

With Planning Permission achieved and a power purchase contract agreed the construction of the wind farm offers two choices:

Turnkey development

As owner of the wind farm you can choose to employ the turbine manufacturer (or their agent) to project manage the construction and commissioning of the wind farm. By doing so, they will undertake the design, procurement of equipment, civil works and commissioning plus in most cases deal with future operation and maintenance of the wind farm. The benefit of this arrangement is that one party takes care of the entire construction management of the project - this however at a higher price than using an "Owners Engineer".

Owners Engineer

You may however choose to employ a professional experienced engineer or firm of engineers to manage the project for you. This way you can achieve the same objectives as outlined for the Turnkey developer but you may also avail of their independent advice when selecting the turbines and of the lower project management costs. Separate O&M contracts from the turbine manufacturer will be available. If choosing this type of development process, it is vital that clear responsibilities are defined and agreed beforehand to avoid possible delay during the construction phase.

The Working Wind Farm

The turbines stand and their blades are busy turning wind energy into electricity but the job is not complete. As owner of the wind farm you also ultimately assume responsibility for its continued operation and any scheduled or unscheduled maintenance necessary to keep it working efficiently.

It is vital that any agreements made in conjunction with the planning permission are adhered to and that O&M contracts and warranty conditions are honoured. Personnel will require continual training and local residents should continue to be informed about the development. Wind farms must be maintained in a fashion reflecting the clean and efficient energy source that we can all be happy to benefit from.

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