Interactive Map Pinpoints Idaho, U.S. Wind Turbines

Mar 3, 2014

If you’ve driven across southern Idaho in the past few years, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of wind turbines. But have you ever wondered how many there are? Now you can count them and get stats on each one with a new interactive map.

A screenshot of the USGS map known as windFarm.
Credit usgs.gov

Jay Diffendorfer is an ecologist with the U. S. Geological Survey. He led the team that collected the data for the map. He sits in his Denver office and brings up the map on his computer. Diffendorfer says if you look at Idaho's representation, the first thing you’ll notice is there are only turbines in the southern part of the state.

“And when you zoom into that, it looks like there is this semi-circular loop that runs across the entire state,” Diffendorfer says.

He says all of Idaho’s wind farms are along the I-84 corridor.

The map includes data about each turbine including height, blade length and generating capacity.  Diffendorfer says the map was created as a tool for a much larger project to assess the impact of wind energy development on wildlife. But to do that, the USGS had to know where all the turbines are located. In Idaho this could be used to understand how wind energy is affecting raptors, bats and sage grouse.

“You could easily look at the map of Idaho relative to sage grouse habitat and say, well, there are no wind turbines associated with sage grouse habitat in Idaho right now,” Diffendorfer says. “Or, wow all those ones on the west are right smack dab in the middle of sage grouse habitat and maybe we need to be concerned about that.”

Diffendorfer says the map is also being used for other things. He says the Department of Defense is using it to study the impact of wind farms on radar facilities.

But the map may be most effective at allowing for comparisons between states.  For example, seeing Idaho's 544 commercial turbines, one might be tempted to believe the state was a big player in the wind sector. But look at the map and you realize states like Texas, Minnesota and Iowa blow Idaho away in their wind energy production.

Diffendorfer’s team created the map by combining three sets of information. There’s an FAA list of tall structures that could interfere with aircraft. Most commercial turbines are on it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses high resolution aerial photography to study farm land. The USGS borrowed that. Diffendorfer says his team also looked for anything they could find that talked about turbine locations - things like wind company websites or environmental studies.  

But the map isn’t perfect. Diffendorfer is confident it shows all the country’s larger turbines, like those used commercially. It also has a lot of smaller ones like those used to power farms and ranches. But it’s missing some of the smallest back yard turbines. He says his team will update the map with all the new wind turbines they can verify.

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