Reporting on Home Wind-Power Turbines

Not so long ago it would have been unheard of to read in a general newspaper that there is a movement afoot for individual property owners to generate their own electricity with individual wind turbines.

Times are changing.

An April 15 article in The New York Times by John Casey, “Technology Smooths the Way for Home Wind-Power Turbines,” reflects a growing interest among citizens to use alternative energy on their own land.

But Ron Stimmel, a small wind energy expert with the trade group the American Wind Energy Association, says the article contains some misleading information.

For instance, Casey wrote, “No one tracks the number of small-scale residential wind turbines.” Stimmel said in an e-mail response to the Yale Forum, “We do, and there are two, soon to be three, publicly available market studies available for free online.” (See AWEA latest study – pdf.)

According to that study, about 7,000 Americans “purchased small wind systems in 2006, but these systems are still far too expensive for most consumers.” The group defines “small wind” as wind-powered electric generators with rated capacities of 100 kilowatts (kW) or less.

One source in the Times article, Home Power magazine editor Joe Schwartz, is quoted saying that a big shift in interest in residential wind turbines came three years ago as a result of new technology to connect single turbines to the electricity grid. Stimmel says that technology has been available for years but that demand has shifted toward grid connections.

He also said he thinks the article might lead people to think that any utility will allow grid-connected wind turbines, but not all of them do. Furthermore, he believes that the interest in residential wind turbines is based more on economic than environmental concerns.

“The article is correct that there is currently no federal-level incentive for small wind systems,” Stimmel said. His trade group and the industry generally are advocating such an incentive, which would complement existing incentive programs the Times article mentioned in some states.

Casey reported Schwartz’s comment that it takes about 20 years to earn back the investment in a wind turbine through savings in utility bills. Stimmel said his view is that pay-back can take as little as six years, depending on the conditions, energy costs, and state subsidies.

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