Unlike its Appalachian neighbors, Kentucky has no large or small-scale wind farms. And a study says that’s only partly due to the state’s low wind potential. In the report, the authors identify a number of barriers to more wind development in Appalachia. There are obstacles like rough terrain, which makes it difficult for large trucks with wind turbines to get through. And then there’s small-scale land ownership means wind companies have to negotiate with several property owners to lease the land. But policies also play a large role.
Brent Bailey of The Mountain Institute is the study’s lead author. He says one of the barriers to wind production in the region is a “one-size fits all” approach to energy incentives.
“I think that many of the states in our region do have policies that generally favor large-scale, industrial-scale energy development,” he said. “And they haven’t looked much at the smaller-scale, locally-based, community-owned energy installations, to create those kind of incentives.”
Wind turbines—like solar panels—can be installed for an individual or community relatively easily. But in Kentucky, the net metering policies that let homeowners sell energy back to the grid from solar panels don’t apply to wind turbines.
Even if this changes, it’s unlikely that the state will ever see large-scale wind development. Kentucky is ranked 43rd out of the 48 continental United States for wind potential, so Bailey says it’s not surprising that the state would focus more on providing incentives to large energy providers…like coal.
But nearby West Virginia, there is significant wind production. Estimates show that the state has tapped about a third of its wind resource, while Kentucky has tapped zero.
“West Virginia has pretty abundant resources, and Kentucky has a very limited wind resources,” Bailey said. “So it probably makes sense that you wouldn’t see a whole lot of wind development in Kentucky just because that resource is pretty dispersed, it’s not easy to find, whereas in many of the ridge lines in West Virginia, those just pop right out on some of the wind studies that show where the wind resources are.”
A previous study identified 19 former mining sites in Eastern Kentucky that have enough wind potential to be viable. But that’s still a small number for a state of this size.