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Wind Turbines

Wind turbines—like windmills—are mounted on a tower to capture the most energy. At 100 feet or more aboveground, they can take advantage of the faster and less turbulent wind. Turbines catch the wind's energy with their propeller-like blades. Two or three blades are usually mounted on a shaft to form a rotor.

A blade acts much like an airplane wing. When the wind blows, a pocket of low-pressure air forms on the downwind side of the blade. The low-pressure air pocket then pulls the blade toward it, causing the rotor to turn. This is called lift. The force of the lift is actually much stronger than the wind's force against the front side of the blade, which is called drag. The combination of lift and drag causes the rotor to spin like a propeller, and the turning shaft spins a generator to make electricity.

Land-Based Wind Energy

Wind turbines can be used as stand-alone applications; or connected to a utility power grid; or combined with a photovoltaic (solar cell) system. For utility-scale (megawatt-sized) sources of wind energy, a large number of wind turbines are usually built close together to form a wind plant, also referred to as a wind farm. Several electricity providers today use wind plants to supply power to their customers.

Wind Projects

To develop a wind project, developers must obtain legal rights to the land on which the wind turbines will be placed. These rights may be in the form of a purchase of the land; a lease of the land; or easement to use the land.

The process of securing these rights for a wind energy project may begin with an option agreement—an exclusive right to conduct due diligence on the available wind resources, property conditions, and energy market until the developer is ready to move forward with project development.

The most common land agreement for a wind energy project is a lease. Leases allow the developer to spread the payments over the life of the project to minimize upfront costs. And since the wind project facilities occupy only a small portion of the land, landowners can continue existing land uses, while adding an additional revenue source with a wind energy lease.

A utility company (utility) will often require that the utility or the developer own the land where a utility-owned substation will be located. If the project includes construction of a new utility-owned substation, the developer or the utility will usually negotiate a purchase agreement directly with a landowner.

In Texas, wind turbines are regulated under various state statutes and local ordinances that govern the installation and operation of wind energy systems. Texas is a leading state in wind energy production, and the state government has implemented policies to encourage the development of wind energy projects. Developers looking to establish wind farms must secure legal rights to the land, which can involve purchasing the land, leasing it, or obtaining an easement. The process often starts with an option agreement, allowing the developer to assess the suitability of the site. Leases are common for wind projects, as they enable developers to make payments over time and allow landowners to continue using their land while earning additional income from the wind energy lease. For utility-scale projects, a utility company may require ownership of the land where a substation will be built, leading to direct purchase agreements with landowners. Texas does not have a state-wide zoning law for wind energy systems, so local governments may have their own regulations that affect the siting and construction of wind turbines. Additionally, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) oversees the interconnection of wind farms to the power grid and ensures compliance with relevant grid standards and reliability requirements.

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