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Learning the Basics of Distributed Wind

March 29, 2011

Audio with Trudy Forsyth, Senior Project Leader, National Wind Technology Center (MP3 3.3 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:29

Distributed wind generation is not a new concept, but it is a concept that is gaining acceptance in the utility sector. It's the use of smaller wind turbines at homes, farms, businesses, and public facilities to produce energy that can offset energy consumption. Trudy Forsyth is Senior Project Leader for the National Wind Technology Center. She says the increased acceptance by utilities is leading to a greater interest in distributed wind in the countryside.

"The first thing is really understanding what type of wind resource they have at their home or farm or wherever they may be and whether they really have sufficient wind to make it economical; of course realizing that the further up into the atmosphere that you get, the faster the wind speed is. So the taller the tower you can put in, frankly the better, from just generating kilowatt hours or electricity."

According to Forsyth, the cost of a wind turbine is going to depend on the size. The smaller the turbine—the higher the cost per watt. She says a one-kilowatt system will cost somewhere between seven and ten thousand installed. But there are resources available to help with the cost.

"There's a federal investment tax credit that is good through 2016, which is considered very long-term federal policy. And it's for 30% of the installed system cost up front in the year that you pay those monies. You can take it off on a tax credit. With that then, some states and some utilities offer other incentives."

Forsyth says the best way to learn more about the different state incentives is to check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. The website is She suggests checking the database and talking with a utility service provider to see how easy it is to interconnect your system before making a purchase. By connecting a system to the grid—if a net metering policy is available—Forsyth says there's an opportunity to get paid for any excess energy that's produced.

"What we call annualized net metering is the best policy for the utility company as well as for the consumer, because typically when you're producing excess, net excess generation is the term, then those kilowatt hours tend to have a wholesale type of rate versus a retail type of rate. So those excess kilowatt hours transfer from month to month to month."

Forsyth says the availability of net metering and the other incentives qualified for will have an impact on how quickly the costs of installing a wind turbine are recovered. She says the payback time can range from seven to 40 years.

"The payback time is going to be a function of how much you pay for your retail electricity costs. That's the first thing you have to understand. Look at your utility bill. See if all of those charges are electricity-based or maybe some are some flat charges and you need to distinguish between the two of those because those flat charges, sometimes called demand charges, will continue to exist. Then of course the most important thing in wind is the wind speed. The power in the wind is a function of the wind speed cubed, so wind speed times wind speed times wind speed. The faster your wind speed, the sooner you're going to pay that off."

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—Julie Jones