A wind farm goes through many stages of assessment, screening, community consultation and approvals before the start of construction.
Early and frequent consultations with municipalities and local communities guides a successful project. Experienced wind energy developers take the time to talk with the people in the community that may be impacted directly and indirectly, and engage them early in the planning process and keeping an open dialogue throughout the development and operational phases.
Public Consultation and Permitting
As with any other major power project, developers seek municipal, provincial and federal permits before the project can go ahead. They also meet with local community residents and elected officials to present the project, receive feedback and build community support.
- Effective and meaningful community engagement is fundamental to the success of any wind energy project, and the Canadian wind industry is continuously improving and strengthening the ways to involve Indigenous communities, residents, local businesses and municipalities at every stage of project development. CanWEA has developed a Best Practices for Indigenous and Public Engagement guide to help industry members consult, engage and communicate on wind energy developments.
- Check out this CanWEA blog about the rigorous permitting and approvals process for wind projects in Alberta: A primer on Alberta’s wind energy permitting and environmental requirements.
Scientists and engineers use meteorological masts to measure wind speed and other climatic conditions. This data is then used to estimate how much energy a potential wind farm could produce.
Wind Farm Design
Wind data is combined with topographical information to design the wind farm. Engineers model wind flow, turbine performance, sound levels and other parameters to optimize the location of wind turbines. They also design the access roads, turbine foundations and local electric network, as well as the connection to the electricity grid.
Environmental assessments identify and to mitigate potential impacts on community residents, landscape, plants and wildlife, soil and water, land use or other activities such as aviation and telecommunications.
In the pre-development phase, developers usually approach landowners to negotiate option agreements to use their land. As the project progresses, the developer will seek to convert the options into firm land lease agreements.
- In Alberta, the Farmers Advocate Office has published a document called Renewable Energy in Alberta – Negotiating Renewable Energy Leases, which gives a landowner advice on how to negotiate a potential land lease with a wind energy company.
- Check out this CanWEA blog about negotiating land lease agreements: Incentive for wind developers to foster strong, trusted partnerships with host landowners in Alberta.
- For more, see this CanWEA’s fact sheet: Wind Energy and Land Use – an Advantage for Landowners and Communities.
Economic and Financial Analysis
Developers demonstrate the economic viability of their project to raise the funds necessary to build a wind farm. They work to estimate the cost of turbines and their installation, as well as the costs of access roads, electrical systems, operations and maintenance. This is balanced with an analysis of the potential income received from the energy production of the wind farm over the lifetime of the project.
Wind turbine component parts are manufactured and pre-assembled at the factory, then shipped to the wind farm site where the final assembly takes place.
Site Preparation and Construction
Work crews prepare turbine sites by building access roads, preparing turbine foundations and reassembling turbine components. A crane is used to erect turbine towers and install the nacelles and rotors with their hubs and blades. This phase presents the best opportunities for local business and jobs. Other activities related to logistics, travel, lodging and material supply generate significant additional local revenue.
During the final development phase, the electrical collection network is installed and connected to the grid through the substation. Final testing is completed before the wind farm becomes fully operational.
Operation and Maintenance
Activities that are performed on a regular basis throughout the project’s life include monitoring and analyzing performance, conducting environmental surveys and performing preventive maintenance and repairs on the turbines and other components of the facility. In addition to the permanent employment created to perform these tasks, a region with several wind farms may develop and deliver new training programs for the specialized workers needed for these jobs. Check out these blogs about wind energy operations and maintenance.
Decommissioning / Repowering
Wind farms operate for several decades, typically 25 to 30 years. Once a wind farm reaches the end of its life cycle, consideration is given to either decommission or repower the facility.
- Decommissioning (wind farm’s power production is ceased and the site is dismantled)
- Repowering (wind farm’s equipment is replaced or upgraded with more advanced and efficient technology)
- For more information, check out Decommissioning/Repowering a Wind Farm.