Blowin' in the wind

Blowin' in the wind

When it comes to renewable energy for our homes, solar power often comes to mind. But the same wind that whips up trees can also bring down your electricity bills, making you more energy independent.

"Costs (for wind energy) have come down by about 50 percent in recent decades," says Ron Stimmel, the small wind advocate for the American Wind Energy Association. "The cost of a turbine large enough to power a whole home ranges from $12,000 to $55,000, depending on the size you need."

Tim Olsen, principal with Advanced Energy Systems in Denver, says one of the simplest and most affordable wind turbines is the Skystream, manufactured by Southwest Windpower in Flagstaff, Ariz. Olsen says the Skystream "can generate 300 to 400 kilowatt-hours of energy in a mediocre wind and 500 in a good wind. That's about $40 savings per month."

"It's something that people can get their arms around," says Olsen. Bergey, a company out of Norman, Okla., offers everything from 1- to 10-kilowatt units. Five kilowatts is the ideal home turbine size, Olsen says. But Stimmel says not every home is suitable for wind power, particularly in dense, urban environments where turbulent winds make installation difficult. Local zoning ordinances can also hinder a home turbine, sometimes limiting structures to no taller than 35 feet. Most turbines average between 60 and 80 feet, Stimmel says. Olsen always recommends a combination of wind and solar power, since wind speeds can rise and fall at different times of the year.

"These two technologies are often sold alongside one another and over 90 percent of residential wind turbines have some sort of (solar) PV component to them," Stimmel says.

"They are natural complements because at night, when the sun isn't shining, the wind is usually in full force, and vice versa."

"Small wind is the only renewable energy technology still without a federal incentive to help consumers afford this technology," Stimmel says. The AWEA is actively advocating for fair zoning rules and utility policies, as well as the instatement of a 30-percent federal investment tax credit for consumers of small wind systems. About a dozen states, including Oregon, offer rebates or similar financial incentives for consumers of small wind systems.

After a little research, you may find yourself reaping the whirlwind. "People are doing this because they think it's a cool toy, they're saving the earth and it makes them feel good," says Olsen.

On the Web: Energy Trust of Oregon,; The Renewable Northwest Project,; Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,; The Center for Resource Solutions,; US EPA Green Power Partnership,

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