Wind power plants, also known as wind farms, are large complexes of wind generating devices that convert wind energy into electricity, as well as into energy for pumping water or generating mechanical power. The most common kind of wind power plant generates electricity through wind turbines and distributes it through power lines and transformers. Some plants are connected to a large electric plant, while other smaller ones provide electrical power to isolated residences or small commercial buildings. The most productive plants regularly sell surplus power to utility companies.
A wind power plant can be constructed as one large unit or in smaller modular turbine structures. The smaller plant design includes modules that can easily be rearranged, increased, or decreased depending on wind power availability and energy needs. While a medium size wind farm can be physically constructed in less than six months, the related wind analysis and securing of construction and use permits normally extends the completed project time to around two years.
An open, unhindered windy piece of land is the first step of many that are needed to build and operate a wind power plant. The velocity of the wind is extremely important, as is the amount of wind regularly produced at the proposed location. Determining these factors involves intricate and relatively long-term testing to be accurate.
Location is everything when determining the best place to build a wind power plant. Wind speed and force can vary greatly from hour to hour on a daily basis, and even from season to season at different locations. Though not as dramatic, wind can also vary on an annual basis. Forecasting methods for predicting wind factors exist but are not highly reliable in attempting to "schedule" it, as is done with other sources for electricity.
It is generally safe to assume that wind speed is faster at higher altitudes that are unobstructed and free of windbreaks. Based on these factors, preferred locations for wind farms are mountaintops, bare open planes or shorelines, or the tops of rounded, rolling hills free of heavy tree growth or foliage. Even in ideal geographic locations, actual wind speeds and continuity must be carefully measured, as simple perceptions of wind can be misleading.
Wind energy is often touted as the best alternative to using fossil fuels, which contain high levels of carbons and hydrocarbons, to produce electricity. It is promoted based on its lack of harmful emissions, mass availability, and overall cleanliness. Opponents of wind power plants cite the plants' negative aesthetic visual impacts and possible disruption to birds and other animals indigenous to the area.