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Wind Energy

As a clean, inexhaustible, and renewable source of electric power, wind energy can play an important part in climate-neutral plans for research campuses.

The following links go to sections that describe when and where wind energy may fit into your climate action plans.

Wind installations are becoming more popular at research campuses. You can view an online list of campus wind power installations published by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Campus Wind Energy Options

A wind turbine or wind farm is one of the few technologies that supplies renewable energy at the scale required by large research campuses. Campuses can take advantage of wind energy in several ways.

  • Install wind energy on campus: Wind energy installations require the greatest commitment of financing and land as well as sites with high wind energy potential. However, the resulting wind power directly displaces electricity supplied by utilities and provides the greatest visibility for the project.

  • Directly purchase wind energy from the producers: Purchasing electricity directly from producers allows campus managers to purchase wind power at any scale without a large initial investment.

  • Invest in regional wind power plants: Campuses can take advantage of economies of scale by partnering with neighboring campuses or communities to invest in regional wind power plants that may be located a considerable distance from the campus.

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Considerations for Campus Wind Installations

Is wind power right for your campus?
  • Do you have a good wind energy resource?
  • Do you have a large site with open land areas?
  • Do you want to demonstrate a commitment to renewable energy?
  • Are incentives or rebates available?
  • Is financing available?
  • Is this part of an organizational mission?

Research campuses should consider the following before undertaking an assessment or wind energy installation.

Wind Energy Resources

Wind power production varies significantly from one site to another. At least one year's worth of wind data should be obtained before a commercial installation is undertaken. For feasibility and scoping studies, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) publishes low- and high-resolution wind energy resource maps of the United States. These maps connect with a geographical information system that enables you to zoom in on specific locations.


Wind installations are located in open areas far from trees, buildings, or other structures that might block the wind. A commercial-scale wind power plant requires several acres for installation and setback requirements. This land can sometimes be used for other productive purposes, such as farming or ranching, because the turbines, electrical equipment, and roads typically occupy only 10% of the land within the boundary of the power plant.

Before determining whether a site is suitable for a wind turbine, read the Wind Energy Siting Handbook published by the American Wind Energy Association.

Visible Commitment to Sustainability

Wind turbines represent a tangible commitment to sustainability because they are large enough to be visible for many miles. However, as part of preconstruction planning that commits to wind energy, campus managers should determine how such structures will be received by local residents and neighbors.

Incentives and Rebates

Many states, municipalities, and serving utility companies offer incentives and rebates for wind and other renewable energy projects. The programs can dramatically reduce capital costs associated with project development. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to see whether your state provides incentives or tax credits for renewable energy installations.


Although the "fuel" is free, wind energy installations require a large capital commitment, so financing can represent a critical factor in determining the feasibility of a particular project. Because of its capital-intensive nature, wind energy costs are very predictable (once a site is chosen and financing arranged). You can compare energy cost and performance data for wind energy and other renewable energy technologies; NREL compiles these data from a variety of sources and publishes them online.

Options usually include self-financing, issuing bonds, or obtaining third-party financing from the private sector. You can read about these and other financing options in a technical report published by NREL titled, Innovations in Wind and Solar PV Financing.

Organizational Mission

A research campus undertaking an on-site wind installation can gain doubly by using it to further its research or academic mission. For example, Iowa Lakes Community College has installed a wind turbine on site and now offers an Associate Degree in wind energy and turbine technology.

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Leading Example: Carleton College Wind Project

Photo of a wind turbine.

Since Carleton College installed this wind turbine on its campus in 2004, many campuses have followed suit with wind installations of their own.

Carleton College was the first campus in the United States to install a utility-scale wind turbine. Rated at 1.65 megawatts (MW), the turbine is large enough to displace a significant portion of the college's electricity consumption. The turbine is located less than two miles from campus in Northfield, Minnesota, and has been in operation since 2004. Read the history of the Carleton wind turbine, which includes pictures from the construction phase of the installation.

Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, placed the wind turbine at the center of its sustainability plan. Today, colleges and universities across the country have undertaken wind energy installations, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education publishes a list of wind power on campuses.

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Here you will find links to technology basics and wind energy organizations.

Technology Basics

The following resources explain the fundamentals of wind energy technologies:

  • Wind Energy Resources and Technologies: Technology overview, published by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Federal Energy Management Program, urges federal facilities managers considering wind energy installations to first evaluate a list of scoping questions.

  • How Wind Turbines Work: The DOE Wind Energy Program publishes this detailed illustration of modern wind technology. The program also publishes a list of advantages and challenges of wind energy.

  • Wind 101 Web Tutorial: The American Wind Energy Association devotes a section of its Web site to explaining wind energy benefits, costs, and potential.

  • Wind Energy Basics: NREL publishes this basic technology description aimed at the general public. It includes videos and tutorials.

Wind Energy Organizations

Detailed information about wind technologies is available through these organizations:

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