Supporting the local economy, promoting green jobs, encouraging energy conservation. These are some of the benefits that small-scale wind projects can offer–and are beginning to deliver in a big way despite market barriers.
by Debbie Van Der Hyde, Green Economy Post
Small-scale wind turbines–defined as those with capacities of 100 kW and under—are becoming more common as communities and rural homeowners, farmers and other property owners look for ways to reduce their environmental impact or work toward self-sufficiency.
But beyond the clean energy benefits, small wind offers several compelling economic benefits. These include:
Buying local–“Community-based or owned wind projects, such as those installed on Native American reservations or in rural farming regions, deliver most of the benefits of locally-sited energy facilities,” says Jennifer Grove, executive director of Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (NW SEED). “These types of projects keep more dollars circulating in the local economy, for example through local investors and installers,” Grove says.
Renewable Northwest Project, a coalition of public-interest organizations and energy companies, concurs. According to a recent RNP publication, Oregon currently has 1,834 MW of wind projects in operation or under construction and another 3,665 MW in the pipeline. This 5,500 MW total is enough to power about 1.3 million homes and is estimated to provide $9 billion in total investment, $717 million in property taxes and community service fees, and between $57-$115 million in landowner payments annually.
Creating green jobs–Small wind projects generate a need for green collar contractors, construction and maintenance crews, as well as for lawyers, attorneys, and engineering and energy consultants. Case in point, Renewable Northwest Project suggests the 5,500 MW of existing and planned projects in Oregon are estimated to provide 445 project operations and maintenance jobs and 8,250 construction jobs.
Encouraging conservation–A third, and potentially the most far-reaching, economic benefit of small wind is from tying energy generation to usage and conservation. Grove of NW SEED illustrates the idea by telling the story of a turbine in Liberty County, Montana: “The County installed the turbine next to a maintenance shop. In time, it became a sort of game as the crew tried to conserve their energy usage to ensure it was fully paid for by the output of the turbine,” she says. In other words, the Montana crew made a lasting behavior change that saved the County money while reducing its carbon footprint.
Local Energy at Work
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon is an example of a community that is moving to capture these wind power benefits. In 2003, the reservation received US Department of Energy funding to complete a wind energy assessment. Now Warm Springs Power & Water Enterprises, the energy department of the tribe, is studying the feasibility of erecting turbines on its tribal lands.
According to a recent presentation, wind energy is attractive to the tribes because it can supply competitive electric power, promote use of tribal resources and reduce environmental impact of energy consumption. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is also pursuing other alternative energy options such as biomass and geothermal.
Market Growth Despite Barriers
These economic benefits and more are spurring small wind market growth. According to the 2009 American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) “Small Wind Turbine Global Market Study,” the small wind market in the US grew by 78 percent in 2008 to more than 10,000 units installed across the US.
The AWEA report also states that the economy took a toll on small wind. Nonetheless, the market still shows signs of progress, with the report indicating that “the residential (1-10kW) and commercial market segments showed an approximate 20 percent downturn in late 2008 and early 2009…but that early 2009 residential sales were still 15-20 percent higher than in early 2008.”
The economic downturn notwithstanding, there are other barriers to small wind. The biggest one is price. A small-scale wind turbine can cost as much as $20,000. Other barriers are the permitting process for installation, which varies greatly by county, and numerous regulatory policies.
Fortunately help has arrived for communities and individuals though the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC), an independent certification body that develops and implements quality certification programs for small wind turbines to ensure they meet or exceed the requirements of the AWEA Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard. In February 2010, SWCC began accepting applications from manufacturers to certify their products.
But the biggest boost of all for small-scale wind comes from federal incentives. In October 2008, Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 with an eight-year, 30 percent federal-level investment tax credit. The purpose was to help consumers purchase qualified small wind systems with rated capacities of 100 kilowatts (kW) and less. However, the credit amount was capped until February 2009 when the passage of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 removed the cost caps. A 30 percent investment tax credit is now available through December 31, 2016.
Read On for More Big Results
Want to read more success stories about small wind? Visit the AWEA Small Wind web site to learn about a Kansas wheat farmer who uses wind power, an Ohio business owner who supplemented his business with small wind, and a monastery in North Dakota that is saving money with small wind.
Photo courtesy of Lars Sundstrom.
© 2010, Debbie Van Der Hyde. All rights reserved. Do not republish.