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Ask the Experts!

7 January 2009

ask-the-experts Our area of expertise over at the Minnesota Energy Challenge is, obviously, energy efficiency and conservation.  But we do make sure that we are up to date on all energy issues, including renewables.  So here’s this week’s Ask the Experts question:

Are there good residential wind generators on the market and are there any grants or tax credits to help with installation?”

There are many good residential wind generators on the market, as well as some bad ones.  All of them will require maintenance and someone experienced to do that maintenance regularly. Checking the web, or contacting a renewable energy dealer, and then directly talking to people who have installed the turbines, is the best way to assess if it would work for your situation.

The state Department of Commerce maintains a list of local renewable energy dealers as well as questions to ask.  Windustry‘s site is also a good one to look at.  For state and federal financial incentives, check out DSIRE.

In general, you will find that there are some incentives available, and you may be able to get a grant (with much effort) for installing small wind, but you shouldn’t expect to get a high rate of return… no free money here…  you might be looking at a 15-25 year payback, even with incentives, when you consider the repair costs (you probably will want to factor in paying someone to come out once/year to check on it and do basic maintance and repair).  Compare this to basic home energy efficiency upgrades, which might have a 7-10 year payback.  So before you invest a ton of time in investigating, make sure you are comfortable an investment that is not entirely financial, and consider energy efficiency first.

Another consideration is installing in an urban area is generally not a good idea, because of permitting issues and also because the wind is not as good as in un-obstructed rural areas.  In this case, solar photovoltaics are almost as cost-effective as residential wind, and don’t have the siting and maintenance issues that wind has.

Another general point is that there is a huge difference between commercial wind turbines… which are very sophisticated machines as big or bigger than a jet plane, require large setbacks from buildings and roads, and are cost-competitive with coal generation… and small residential systems, which are very (relatively) simple systems, don’t require as much land but also do not benefit from economies of scale and are still an expensive way to generate power.  They are totally different technologies.

Answer provided by Carl Nelson, Program & Policy Manager at the Center for Energy and Environment.

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