As in most other areas of power production, when it comes to capturing energy from the wind, efficiency comes in large numbers. Groups of large turbines, called wind farms or wind plants, are the most cost-efficient use of wind-energy capacity. The most common utility-scale wind turbines have power capacities between 700 KW and 1.8 MW, and they're grouped together to get the most electricity out of the wind resources available. They are typically spaced far apart in rural areas with high wind speeds, and the small footprint of HAWTs means that agricultural use of the land in nearly unaffected. Wind farms have capacities ranging anywhere from a few MW to hundreds of MW. The world's largest wind farm is the Alta Wind Energy Center located in California, USA. At full capacity, it will have 490 turbines, a total power rating of 1,320 MW and cost nearly $3 billion to build.


The cost of utility-scale wind power has come down dramatically in the last two decades due to technological and design advancements in turbine production and installation. In the early 1980s, wind power cost about 30 cents per kWh. In 2006, wind power costs as little as 12 to 15 cents per kWh where wind is especially abundant. The higher the wind speed over time in a given turbine area, the lower the cost of the electricity that turbine produces. On average nowadays, the cost of wind power is about 4 to 10 cents per kWh in the United States.


Energy Costs Comparison

Resource Type

Average Cost (cents per kWh)

Hydroelectric

2-5

Nuclear

3-4

Coal

4-5

Natural gas

4-5

Wind

4-10

Geothermal

5-8

Biomass

8-12

Hydrogen fuel cell

10-15

Solar

15-32

Sources: American Wind Energy Association

 

 

Many large energy companies offer "green pricing" programs that let customers pay more per kWh to use wind energy instead of energy from "system power," which is the pool of all of the electricity produced in the area, renewable and non-renewable. If you choose to purchase wind energy and you live in the general vicinity of a wind farm, the electricity you use in your home might actually be wind-generated; more often, the higher price you pay goes to support the cost of wind energy, but the electricity you use in your home still comes from system power. In states where the energy market has been deregulated, consumers may be able to purchase "green electricity" directly from a renewable-energy provider, in which case the electricity they're using in their homes definitely does come from wind or other renewable sources.