UEP 232 – Intro GIS, Assignment 1
January 27, 2012
Potential Project Topics
1. Is Solar and Wind Energy Siting Potential in MA Hampered or Buoyed by Public Policy?
I am very interested in the intersection between the feasibility, potential, and/or prioritization of
possible solar and wind siting in Massachusetts and the current policies in the Commonwealth
that aim to facilitate them. I am not sure how to do this with GIS, particularly in terms of
integrating the policy idea. It would not be difficult to research the MA clean energy regulations,
though I would probably have to focus on just a few (or one, if it was really robust like the
Global Warming Solutions Act or the 2008 Green Jobs Act). But, I am not sure how to express
this spatially (if it is even possible) and determine how that representation interacts with the
potential sites of solar and wind installations. In my limited research so far, I have not come
across GIS used with mapping policy. Mapping potential sites based on geographic/spatial
suitability and layering this with policy facilitation (no idea what these factors would be though!)
could be really interesting.
GIS-based research questions:
Based on current clean energy policy in MA, and the geographic factors that enable wind
and solar PV to thrive, where would be the best, most plausible places to site additional
wind and solar energy installations?
o The policy/regulatory landscape of the Commonwealth is the context in which
siting will need to occur. Plus, seeing where these sites would be could help gauge
whether the current policies are helpful.
What geographic/spatial features foster the expansion of wind and solar energy
implementation in MA, and how does current policy account for that, if at all?
o Wind turbines and farms are still relatively rare in MA. For instance, I receive my
electricity from wind power through NSTAR but it comes from farms in either
New York State or Vermont. Solar is much more widespread, but MA
policymakers, especially MassCEC, seem to be especially interested in
incentivizing and expanding solar PV installations much more. I am interested in
gaining some insight into how policy affects spatial implementation of clean
energy or vice versa so that I can evaluate how to improve this interplay.
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. (2011). Land-based Wind Energy: A Guide to
Understanding the Issues and Making Informed Decisions. Available from
o The resources on renewable energy generation on the MassCEC website, such as
the guide on “Land-based Wind Energy: A Guide to Understanding the Issues and
Making Informed Decisions,” should be helpful in analyzing the intersection
between policy and siting. For instance, it would be helpful to know – and I may
choose to include as a layer – that “in Massachusetts, model zoning guidance
states that wind turbines ‘…shall be sited in a manner that minimizes shadowing
or flicker impact’ (MA EEA 2009).”
Janke, J. R. (2010). Multicriteria GIS modeling of wind and solar farms in Colorado.
Renewable Energy, 35, 2228-2234.
o A great model for how to set up such a map for Massachusetts in terms of locating
and prioritizing wind and solar farms and what factors to consider using as layers.
It has helped me to the see the exciting possibilities that a state-map of solar and
wind opportunities could offer, and how to go about organizing and evaluating
this. For solar, I may have to focus on unsuitable land cover, and then highlight
the possibilities that lie between. The article shows how it was easier to identify
areas that would be challenging to develop due to “inaccessibility, instability, or
degree of existing development” rather than locating truly suitable sites for solar.
Existing Data Sources:
Map of existing renewable energy in MA (free access), from 2003-2011:
US solar resource maps (free): http://www.nrel.gov/gis/solar.html
US wind resource map (free): http://www.nrel.gov/gis/wind.html
2. In combating arguments that mountaintop, other surface, and underground coal mining must
continue in West Virginia, what is the potential for siting wind installations and exploiting wind
resources to the extent that job and energy production do not diminish substantially?
After viewing the documentary film, “The Last Mountain,” this past fall about the mountaintop
removal coal mining industry in West Virginia, I was particularly struck by some local interest in
replacing that industry with wind power generation. The destruction of the mountains in
Appalachia and deleterious effects on the communities directly downstream were significant and
upsetting. Damage was obvious not only to the physical environment, but also to the health,
safety, drinking water, and economic cohesion of the communities.
The opponents of mountaintop removal who were followed in the film dedicated time and effort
to understand the wind potential of the same mountain ranges that were being mined. They found
that this potential was quite high. Moreover, the jobs created would be longer-term and similarly
high in number and profit to those in the coal industry. I think it could be really interesting to
map the most suitable sites for wind production in West Virginia, based on wind power,
geography, ecologically sensitive areas, transmission lines, infrastructure, and more (to be
determined) and overlay this with the locations of the current and planned coal mine sites. I
could then discuss the potential for wind to replace coal production in the state.
GIS-based research questions:
When plotting where the coalmines are and where the best and most appropriate sites are
for wind turbine farms together, what happens?
o This question should help me to understand whether the two types of sites
overlap, and whether that matters. Are they relatively equal in energy production
magnitude? How do they relate, or not, and what could this mean for combating a
perceived need to mine for an ever-increasing amount of coal?
After determining the best and most appropriate wind installation sites in West Virginia,
how might the economic wellbeing of local communities be affected in comparison to
that within the current coal mining industry?
o I would hope to map where the coal jobs are, and view this in comparison with
projected data for wind industry jobs to gauge how they compare in number,
location, and quality. Adding this layer to the discussion could allow for a deeper
understanding of whether the many coal-miner communities could viably shift to
a wind-powered economy.
Princeton Energy Resources International, LLC. (2003). Wind and Biomass Integration
Scenarios in Vermont: Summary of First Phase Research: Wind Energy Resource
Analysis (DOE Project #DE-FG01-00EE10762). Available from
o The layers utilized to analyze strong wind energy sites in Vermont, such as a
topographic and infrastructure base map, a wind power map with levels from 1 to
7, land use factors, and locations of environmentally sensitive areas to avoid,
could serve as a great model for how to perform a similar analysis in West
Virginia. Moreover, even though the two states are in very different parts of the
country, they both rely on the Appalachian Mountains and could provide a good
comparison geographically to an extent.
Arnette, A. N. & Zobel, C. W. (2011). Spatial analysis of renewable energy potential in
the greater southern Appalachian mountains. Renewable Energy, 36, 2785-2798.
o This article seems very pertinent, as it identifies the coal-dependence of the region
and has used GIS to look at different types of renewable energy production
throughout four states, including West Virginia. It focuses on constraints rather
than opportunities, but could be quite helpful in using those factors to identify
opportunities. The article includes ArcGIS-generated maps of the four states and
their solar radiation and wind power potential in broad strokes. It could be helpful
in creating a similar study, organizing my GIS work, and building on the research
of layers, models, incentive mechanisms, and land classifications as well as how
to use the NREL data for productive analysis.
Existing Data Sources:
West Virginia wind resource maps and data files (free):
West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training’s 2009 Annual Report and
Directory of Mines, which has information on coal distribution by county, underground
and surface mines directory, seam and county codes, and more: