More Americans are installing wind turbines near their homes, farms and businesses to generate their own energy, concludes a report by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). This is the first comprehensive analysis on the growing field of distributed wind, which involves generating wind energy close to where it is used instead of purchasing it from large, centralized wind farms. Distributed wind can range from a small, solitary turbine in a backyard to several large turbines that power a manufacturing facility or a neighborhood.


“The public often pictures large wind projects with long rows of turbines when they think of wind power,” said the report’s lead author Alice Orrell, an energy analyst at PNNL. “But this report provides detailed data that shows this image is incomplete. Many of the nation’s turbines are for distributed, not centralized, wind projects.”


PNNL wrote the report for the DOE with support from energy consulting firm eFormative Options, the Distributed Wind Energy Association and the American Wind Energy Association.


Sixty-eight percent of all wind turbines installed in the United States between 2003–2012 were distributed wind turbines, representing about 69,000 turbines that can generate 812 megawatts (MW) combined. About one-third of all U.S. wind turbines installed in 2012 were distributed wind turbines, representing about 3,800 turbines that can generate 175 MW combined.


While the total number of distributed wind turbines installed in 2012 declined by nearly 50 percent, the amount of power those new turbines could potentially produce increased by 62 percent. This shift is mainly because more large turbines are being used in distributed wind projects.


Other good news for all wind power projects comes from a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) study that found no evidence of property value impacts near wind turbines. LBL analyzed more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities in 27 counties in nine states, yet it was unable to uncover any impacts to nearby home property values.


This study, the most comprehensive to date, builds on both a previous LBL study as well a number of other academic and published U.S. studies, which also generally find no measurable impacts near operating turbines.


Ben Hoen, lead author of the report and a researcher at LBL, said: “Although there have been claims of significant property value impacts near operating wind turbines that regularly surface in the press or in local communities, strong evidence to support those claims has failed to materialize in all of the major U.S. studies conducted thus far. Moreover, our findings comport with the large set of studies that have investigated other potentially similar disamenities, such as high-voltage transmission lines, landfills and noisy roads, which suggest that widespread impacts from wind turbines would be either relatively small or nonexistent.”


The new study used a number of sophisticated techniques to control for other potential impacts on home prices, including collecting data that spanned well before a wind development was announced to after they were constructed and operating. This allowed researchers to control for any pre-existing differences in home sales prices across their sample and any changes that occurred due to the housing bubble.