Wind 101: education on small wind energy systems

September 17, 2009

Rebecca Rush, Outreach Coordinator for this Educational Series said, “This is a particularly good time to offer a public education program related to small wind energy systems because of the increasing cost of electricity, continuing concerns about energy independence and the financial incentives now available as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act..  We want to make sure that people make well-informed choices.”  Ordinances regarding wind power use are currently under discussion in many local jurisdictions:

Presenters for our first Small Wind Energy Systems 101 program included:

a.   Eric Coffman, Montgomery County Clean Energy Director

b.  Jeremy Criss, Montgomery County Agriculture Economic Development Specialist

c.  Dr, Carlos Fernandez, Potomac Wind Energy and

d.  Rebecca Rush, Moderator, representing Renewable Energy Stewardship and Friends of Frederick County.

This program was held just 5 days in advance of the Town of Poolesville Public Hearing about their proposed “Alternative Energy Ordinance.”.  We are pleased that one of the Town elected officials attended the program.  As part of our outreach we contacted the Upper Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Department .  Their management and staff, including Captain, Adam Pegler, welcomed our project.  The Department is an advocate for  renewable energy and energy conservation best-practices for energy/homeland security.  Their Fire Station is an Emergency Shelter location.  There is a long-standing desire to make the Fire Station building and operations more sustainable and energy independent

Our  September 17 speakers included:

Host Rebecca Rush represented the grantee, Friends of Frederick County and the OURcommonWEalth association and presented a program about the difference between “small” and “large” wind turbines.  She said that people get tripped up believing that either we don’t have enough wind to make a turbine work (which is currently true about very large, commercial-grade wind systems) and that wind turbines are unsafe.  “Wind energy technology has improved now so that net metering makes sense for consumers, farmers  and small businesses.   The right wind turbine may generate electricity consistently at our area’s not-commercially-suitable slower wind speeds.  This is an ideal area for development of community-owned wind projects as well,” she said.   But energy conservation and energy production go hand in hand.

Eric Coffman, Montgomery County Clean Energy Director. Eric spoke about the new Countywide Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Incentives.  This program, signed into effect in April by County Executive Isaiah Leggett will allocate a pool of funds for RESIDENTIAL energy audits and renewable energy devices.  Eric said that “Montgomery County is committed to being a leader in going green.”

Jeremy  Criss, Montgomery County’s Agriculture Extension Economic Development Director reminded the group that our rural landscape was historically dotted with “wind mills”.   “Small-scale wind energy systems are useful for farm sustainability and should be incentivized and encouraged,”  he said.

Keynote presenter was Dr. Carlos Fernandez, owner of Potomac Wind Energy Dr. Fernandez has presented community educational programs in Frederick County in advance of the Board of County Commissioners approving the small-wind turbine ordinance.  He also presented at the Washington County Agricultural Economic Development Workshop shortly after Washington County approved a small-wind turbine ordinance comparable with Frederick County.

Dr. Fernandez emphasized the following rules of thumb to determine if a wind-energy system is right for your residence, farm or business.

  1. Adequacy of the wind resources.  There are maps, devices and computer processes to help a wind turbine buyer estimate the amount of wind that may be available.  There is more wind in this area in the winter months than the summer months.
  2. Optimizing the wind turbine effectiveness with excellent siting: You’ll want to find a site on your property that is (a) unobstructed, and (b) as high as possible.  Your wind turbine can only capture the wind that is made available, so it must reach higher than any trees/buildings/silos/hills.   The higher your wind tower, the less turbulence your device will need to handle and this will make the turbine more reliable and effective.
  3. Public Safety and Permits:  Public safety and welfare is the basis of wind turbine ordinances in Carroll, Frederick and Washington County.  There are specifications that must be complied with to prevent a wind turbine from damaging a neighbor’s property and restricting noise. But, if these criteria are met, you cannot be prohibited from installing at least one small-wind turbine (up to 50 kw power on a maximum 150 ft. tower.)
  4. Size Matters: Currently in Maryland the Public Service Commission permits net metering and a “use it or lose it” standard.  This means that you may NOT derive an economic benefit from any electricity your small-wind energy system produces in excess of what you need at your own home, farm or business.  Therefore, there is no incentive today to make your wind turbine purchase larger than what is the demand/use at your meter.   See the section called “Legislative Alerts” as this rule may be tested in the 2010 Maryland Assembly.
  5. Swept Area: Wind turbines borrow the wind, use it to make electricity.  The most effective test for determining the wind-capturing ability is “swept area” that is a function of the length of the blade times “pi”.
  6. Cost Effectiveness:  Electrical prices may be rising, and there are new FEDERAL grants available for businesses to allow 30% of the cost of the wind turbine to be paid as a GRANT. Residential customers can use 30% of the cost as a tax credit.  STATE Windswept Grants have been re-configured and are now awarded on the basis of normalized kilowatt hours.  For a chart defining the amount available as a GRANT,  go to the Maryland Energy Administration’s Windswept Grant site:  http://www.energy.state.md.us/incentives/residential/windswept/index.asp

In summary, it has never been a better time to obtain financial rewards for investing in small-wind energy systems…and the technologies are improving so that payback periods continue to decrease as the cost of electricity also increases.  Dr. Fernandez has been operating installations of multiple small-wind devices at his farm in

Wind on Farm 1

At the left is the Skystream® design by General Electric/Southwest Wind.

At the right is the American Classic Wind Energy System,    a proprietary wind model being validated and tested.

Read more about program online at:  http://www.gazette.net/stories/09232009/germnew172831_32530.shtml