It Takes More Than Three Wilmingtons for Onshore Wind Power

Wind power plants use an extensive amount of land.  Using data from a proposed wind power plant in Beaufort County, wind power requires about one acre per 19 megawatt-hours.

The proposal is for a 80 MW plant requiring 11,000 acres.  I assumed a generous 30% capacity factor (80*8.760= 700,800 megawatt hours multiplied by 30% = 210,240 megawatt hours).  Take 210,240 and divide by 11,000 acres and you get 19 acres.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which is basically just a government advocate for wind power, they estimate that the state only has onshore wind resources (i.e. adequate places to generate wind power) to meet 1.8% of North Carolina’s current electricity demand.

This percentage can only go down as electricity demand goes up (the wind resources generally won’t change unless, for example, there’s some unlikely breakthrough making it possible to generate electricity at lower wind speeds).

In the unlikely event North Carolina did meet 1.8% of demand (according to NREL this would be 808 MW capacity), this would require more land than three Wilmingtons!

Showing my “work”: 808 MW*8760 = 7,078,080 megawatt hours * 30 percent = 2,123,424 megawatt hours.  I then divide 2,123,424 by 19 acres to get total acres required to generate the 2,123,424 megawatt hours.  The number is 111,759 acres.

According to the U.S. Census, Wilmington is 51 square miles.  111,759 acres is equal to 175 square miles.

To put this all in perspective (and to recap), if NC used all the onshore wind resources in the state, it would only meet 1.8 percent of the state’s current electricity needs (and this is even misleading because it doesn’t take into account whether the electricity will be consumed–it only considers whether it will be generated).

To reach this unlikely number, massive wind turbines covering a land area greater than three Wilmingtons  (call it 3.5 Wilmingtons) would be required!

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