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Electrical power from wind has ramped up dramatically over the past two decades in the United States. Contributing just a fraction of a percent in 2000, wind power grew to 8.4% of total generating capacity by 2020. And for good reason—initial capital costs per kilowatt are competitive with gas and solar and, once installed, wind turbines can provide emissions-free power for 25 years or longer.
And there are a lot of wind turbines out there—more than 70,000 utility-scaled towers from southern California to Northern Maine. That’s more than the total number of Subway, Starbucks, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, and Burger King franchises combined!
An inventory of these turbines is easily accessible through the U.S. Wind Turbine Database (USWTB) hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Updated quarterly, this database provides precise location information for each tower along with detailed specifications including generating capacity, height, rotor diameter, manufacturer, and year of installation[i].
What is the Data Telling Us?
With more than 17,000 turbines and 34.6 gigawatts of production capacity, Texas leads the nation in installations, accounting for fully one-quarter of all turbines and capacity in the U.S.—more than the next three states combined. Despite this status, the number one wind turbine county in the nation is not found in the Lone Star State. That honor goes to Kern County, California, the site of nearly 3,500 turbines with the ability to produce more than 3.2 gigawatts. Notably, three of the top ten counties are, indeed, located in Texas.
While raw data from the database is easily downloaded in text or GIS-ready files, the USGS also provides a user-friendly interface that allows for density heatmaps, color coding point locations or zooming into satellite images of individual turbines.
Why is This Important?
The data is freely available for use by government agencies, private companies, scientists, educators, and the general public for a wide range of analyses. Examples of analysis cited include of the role of wind energy in the U.S. electric grid, study of infrastructure investment in wind energy, impacts on wildlife, and impacts on radar and aviation.
Map services and data are available from the U.S. Wind Turbine Database, provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, American Clean Power Association, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory via https://eerscmap.usgs.gov/uswtdb.
[i] Hoen, B.D., Diffendorfer, J.E., Rand, J.T., Kramer, L.A., Garrity, C.P., and Hunt, H.E., 2018, United States Wind Turbine Database (v4.3, (January 14, 2022): U.S. Geological Survey, American Clean Power Association, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory data release, https://doi.org/10.5066/F7TX3DN0.