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Where Does Small Scale Wind Development Fit in the Bigger Wind Energy Picture?

May 13, 2011

Audio with Trudy Forsyth, Senior Project Leader, National Wind Technology Center (MP3 1.4 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:00

When it comes to wind energy development in the wind farm environment—picture rows of turbines—wind energy is cost competitive with conventional energy sources. But bring that down to smaller scale development and National Wind Technology Center Senior Project Leader Trudy Forsyth says the costs aren't competitive. However, she says the benefits might outweigh the costs.

For one thing, Forsyth says, distributed wind—the use of small wind turbines to produce clean energy on a small scale—means energy security.

"The more we basically go to other countries to get our energy needs met, then the more vulnerable we are to...well, we'll just talk about oil for example. We are vulnerable to, not just the supply, but the cost of the supply for oil. There's a couple of other advantages. We see that projects that are owned by the community have three times the jobs and economic development impact that a wind farm would. The other thing is that wind energy doesn't consume a lot of water compared to the more traditional fuel sources. That's another strong benefit that wind energy can provide."

Forsyth says the greatest job growth and economic development impacts are seen in the community wind market—where a community itself owns the wind turbine project.

"Community wind projects can take on a variety of sizes, a variety of percentage of local ownership. The American Wind Energy Association has defined community wind projects as those 20-megawatts and less with at least five-percent local ownership. Or those projects between 20-megawatts and 100-megawatts with at least a third local ownership."

By the year 2030, the Department of Energy would like to see 20-percent of U.S. energy come from wind. While Forsyth says the Department set that goal with a focus on wind farms and offshore wind, she believes distributed wind has a big role to play as well.

"There's a really strong opportunity, particularly in America's heartland, to have a lot of distributed wind. And we worked with a group called ICF International to do an analysis and their analysis estimated a 220-gigawatt potential for distributed wind, that's community and small wind. And really, that's a phenomenal number because the 20% by 2030 goal is 320-gigawatts. So that's essentially two-thirds of that could be met by distributed wind."

Forsyth says that distributed wind market has great opportunity for growth in rural America, but it will be up to states to make the business decision to incentivize that growth.

—Julie Jones