AN OLD FRIEND
Wind power is not new, the first recorded use of wind power dates back to grinding grains in ancient Persia. In rural America small wind generators were prevalent on farms until the Rural Electrification Act of 1935. This law provided federal loans to cooperative electric power companies to purchase power on a wholesale basis, and then distribute to the American countryside. The question for homeowners and farmers remains, “Is wind right for me, and if so how can I best harness the wind for my situation at the lowest possible cost?”
Understanding the basics is a good place to start. What we are discussing here today is mainly Distributed energy. Distributed energy is a term used to describe individual installations of wind turbines for business or homes that help offset some—or all—of the onsite energy consumption.
Small wind turbine installations are typically less than 100 kilowatts (kW) in generation capacity, sized for the amount of power needed, and are electric grid connected, selling excess power back to the utility. Small wind turbines powering homes and farms number more than 69,000 across all 50 states, accounting for over 812 megawatts (MW). That’s enough power for over 120,000 homes!
Many of us have some familiarity with Utility scale wind. Utility scale wind projects produce a large amount of electricity from a single site and then transmit the electricity on high voltage lines to large cities and industry. Wind turbines operating at utility scale “wind farms” are typically around 280-feet tall and produce power in the 1.5- to 3-MW range. A single wind turbine of this scale can power up to 500 homes. Farmers that lease lands to large-scale wind projects are typically paid a fixed annual amount per turbine. Wind power accounts for a majority of all new electric generation in the United States.
There are many factors to examine if your farm or business is considering wind energy on your operation. The wind resource itself is the number one item that must be taken into account. The quality of your wind resource, terrain features, buildings, and tree heights will dictate the specific location of your wind turbine installation and tower height.
Farm usage is typically exempt from zoning rules but permits may still be required so check with your local officials to determine what needs to be done prior to construction. A good, local wind turbine installer can answer most questions and assist you through the entire process.
Maintenance is another issue to consider. Wind turbines like the Ventera Wind 10 kW has a maintenance free design where others require semi-annual or annual maintenance. This can become costly over time and can contribute to down time thus costing you more money, time, and aggravation.
Other factors to keep in mind are a 30 percent federal tax credit that is available for new equipment, accelerated depreciation, and of course the power produced itself. All of these contribute to the “payback” of the wind turbine investment.
Multiple installations of smaller turbines may also be in order. An example would be installing five-10 kW turbines verses one-50 kW turbine as on the historic Braun farm in Saline, Mich. Multiple installs verses one also holds the advantage that, in the event there is ever an issue, you don’t lose 100 percent of your energy production.
A number of American wind turbine manufactures with decades of experience are producing reliable and efficient wind generation systems. Wind turbines are no longer a novelty, but a productive piece of farm equipment. The power of the wind—it’s yours to harness!