At a Glance
Imagine you are standing on a gusty ridge looking up at nine giant wind turbines twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. You are a wind energy developer and you put this wind farm here. Each turbine is over 94 metres tall and has three 40-metre-long rotor blades. Together, these turbines generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes. This wind farm was your project you made it happen.
As a wind energy developer, you have spent your career searching out suitable locations for wind farms and building a market for wind energy. This project started years ago, when you first visited the location and approached the farmer who owns the land, asking to install wind-monitoring equipment to record the site's wind characteristics. You also used meteorological data for the area to calculate longer-term wind averages. Another factor to consider was the amount of transmission infrastructure that would be needed, so you mapped the proximity of existing transmission lines that you could tap into. Once you had determined this was a viable site for a wind farm, you offered the farmer a lease agreement to compensate him in exchange for permission to build the turbines.
With the land secure, you hired a company to conduct a feasibility study and an engineering firm to pre-design the facility. Next, you had to find a buyer for your potential wind energy, so you approached the province's biggest utility company. Normally the utility company buys energy from the cheapest source, which in your province is fossil fuels, but the utility company wanted to improve its environmental image, so it agreed to buy your wind-generated electricity. With a buyer in place, you hired more consultants to finish the design and arrange for permitting and environmental clearance for the project.
Once everything was in place and you'd secured the necessary capital, construction began. Before too long, your wind farm was on the grid and lighting up nearby towns.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a wind energy developer:
- Research new wind energy opportunities.
- Obtain necessary provincial and municipal government approvals, for example development permits and environmental assessments.
- Perform commercial analyses and risk management analyses of wind energy developments.
- Liaise with government and private stakeholders, including making presentations to private landowners to present wind project opportunities.
- Negotiate and execute land rights agreements with landowners.
- Formulate specifications for construction contracts and tender contracts.
- Prepare capital investment proposals.
- Coordinate environmental assessment reporting.
- Maintain databases of stakeholder and supplier information.
- Foster and maintain positive relationships with landowners and other project stakeholders.
Wind energy developers work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
- Negotiating with landowners and drafting lease agreements
- Researching new opportunities and technology
- Evaluating proposals and hiring contractors for different project components
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government officials, and stakeholders
In the field:
- Making presentations to stakeholders, clients, contractors, and the public
- Visiting prospective and established sites
- Consulting with local planners and government officials
Where to Work
There are a number of places wind energy developers can find employment. They include:
- Energy firms, including wind and alternative energy companies
- Federal, provincial/territorial, Aboriginal, and municipal government departments
- Environmental and engineering consulting companies
- Self-employed consultant
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
- Wind turbine manufacturers
- Trade associations
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as a wind energy developer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a wind energy developer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a wind energy developer, the following programs are most applicable:
- Business and Commerce
- Communications and Marketing
- Civil Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Regional Planning
- Renewable Resource Management
It is not mandatory to be certified in order to work as a wind energy developer, though most practitioners choose to belong to industry associations such as the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“My wife says I’ve always got my head stuck out the window when we’re driving, trying to figure out which way the wind is coming from.” For Samit Sharma, knowing the direction of the wind is more than just a passing pleasure—it’s his business. He is a wind energy developer. It was during his science and technology master’s program at Queen’s University that Samit first learned about wind power. “I was at a technology gathering when I heard someone talking about it. I figured, with increasing environmental concerns and the push to find renewable sources of energy, wind power would be the future.”
Later in his program, Samit studied an existing wind power development company. This study inspired him. “I took my studies a step further by developing a business plan and proposal for my own wind power development company.” Today, Samit is president of Gaia Power, a wind energy development company in southern Ontario, splitting his time between his office and the field. When at his desk, he researches new wind power technology and answers calls and emails from the public about potential wind energy developments. He must also keep up with what’s going on in regulatory affairs with wind power. In the field, Samit assesses which areas have good wind potential.
This means speaking with landowners and using his training as a mechanical engineer to review the logistics of how the power could be harnessed to an existing power grid. “We get a lot of inquiries about potential wind sites. People think because they have a breeze on their land they can generate wind power. Generating wind power is so much more than just a breeze.” With such a new form of renewable energy, there are a number of drawbacks to Samit’s work. When Samit proposes a wind energy development, he must educate not only the landowners and local community about what he wants to do, but also the local government. “There’s a lot of learning going on from the government, community, and our own side.”
This can occupy a lot of Samit’s time and energy to ensure that all interested parties know what is going to happen and how it will affect them both positively and negatively. Wind energy is also costly to develop. “The wind might be free, but the cost of developing it is very expensive.” In addition, most of Canada’s power industry is highly regulated. Before a wind energy development can go ahead, the provincial government must approve it. “If the project proposal doesn’t fall within government regulations, they can reject it altogether, and then you’re back to square one.”
Despite the drawbacks, Samit is committed to his work and determined to see his company succeed, and not only for his personal gain. “I’m pursuing a business opportunity that is good for society, good for the overall health of the community, and good for the environment.”