Home wind turbine use on the rise

Photo by TechnoSpin Inc., Flickr

Residential wind turbine sales are on the rise and don’t show any signs of slowing down.

USA Today reports:

A growing number of people are investing in small electricity generating wind turbines for residential use, despite the bad economy, and backers of wind power say they expect advances in technology and manufacturing to make them even more popular.

Nearly 10,000 units were sold nationally in 2009, the latest available data, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In 2001, only 2,100 units were sold.

Advocates of small wind turbines say they can be an important source of clean energy in windy parts of the country. Key hurdles to widespread use rest with local governments, their zoning ordinances and public acceptance.

“Zoning and permitting is a big issue in small wind,” says Larry Flowers, the deputy director for distributed and community wind for the American Wind Energy Association.

“There’s progress being made in some places and struggles in others,” he says.

In Brandon, S.D., resident Charlie Cross wants to add a small, 200-watt turbine to supplement his solar power system. Before that can happen, Cross needs to convince the city to issue permits for residential turbines.

Robert Westall, the owner of Cleaner, Greener Energies in Sioux Falls, S.D., says one of the biggest problems is that communities don’t have zoning rules for small wind turbines.

Westall is working with Cross and the city of Brandon to get an ordinance there.

“The technology is so new that there’s not a lot of code written,” Westall says.

Some cities, such as Boston, have moved more aggressively to promote the technology. Boston views wind power manufacturing as an important source of jobs, so it’s only natural the city would be friendly to both small- and large-scale wind projects, says James Hunt, the city’s chief of environmental and energy services.

The city adopted codes in 2009 to address noise, heights, safety concerns and other issues to encourage more wind development, Hunt says. The city also participated in demonstration projects in order to “demystify wind power,” he says.

Ultimately, Hunt says, the city has a big vision for the future of renewable energies, including small wind.

“We do envision the day when we will have houses that are super efficient, that are generating renewable energy through solar and building-integrated wind, and they are producing more energy than they consume and exporting energy into the grid,” he says.

Tim Dennis installed two turbines at his home in Fort Worth, and then started selling turbines about two years ago.

He runs Willow Creek Renewable Energy, an offshoot to an already established sign business.

His company is installing 12 turbines at a school in Irving, Texas, but he says most turbines he sells are for houses on bigger parcels.

“We try to market it where it’s easiest to sell — at least an acre to 2 acres,” he says.


•Kern County, Calif., has created zoning requirements to encourage both large- and small-scale wind projects that also are compatible with military airspace requirements, because the county is part of a training ground for next-generation warplanes. The county’s zoning is hospitable to all parties because, says Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt, “we want it all.”

Public acceptance of small turbines is another issue, but Oviatt compares it to the attitude people had with television satellite dishes that were once ridiculed and are now commonplace.

“It looks silly,” she says of the light-pole turbines. “It’s what people have to get used to.”

•Portland, Ore., is planning for a future of small wind. About a year ago, the city updated codes to allow for small wind turbines, with size and height restrictions varying in residential, commercial and industrial zones, says Phil Nameny, a planner with the city.

There hasn’t been a clamoring from residents to install turbines — in part Nameny says, because the return on investment is unproven.

A 10-kilowatt wind turbine — the size needed to power an average home — might cost $35,000-$50,000, according to the non-profit Windustry.

•Southwest Windpower of Flagstaff, Ariz., has sold more than 7,000 Skystream turbines since they were introduced in 2006. Now the company is testing a version that delivers 75% more energy, says Southwest’s director of marketing, Miriam Robbins.

“I think the industry is getting more and more developed,” Robbins says. “Permitting and zoning is one of the pieces that helps drive the wind industry.”

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