Crucial State Incentives for Small Wind Turbines Still Need Work
As the small wind turbine market feels the pain of temporary holds on state incentive programs, turbine certification could bring the stability and improve the market’s reputation.
Photo Credit: World Future Energy Summit
The reputation of the small wind turbine industry has tended to fluctuate as much as the output of some of its turbines. Consumers seeing the benefits of wind as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels have at times been burned by mechanical failures and less-than-expected power production.
And on their way to “saving the planet,” some turbine installations have been implicated in numerous bird and bat deaths. While there are numerous financial incentives to install wind, several state incentives have recently been put on temporary hold. These setbacks are potentially the most troubling, as incentives are generally regarded as key to increasing turbine installations.
Important federal incentives are struggling too, as the Obama administration requested only $4.6m for the Rural Energy for America Plan (REAP) in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013. REAP had already suffered a 66% cut from 2011 to 2012, and the program awards totaled only 1 megawatt in 2011.
California’s “free turbine” problem
In California, the longest-running small wind incentive was put on temporary hold from March 4through November 9, 2011, because a sharp increase in the number of people requesting that the incentive cover most or all of the cost of an installed wind turbine worried the California Energy Commission (CEC). According to the CEC, the program wasn’t designed to completely cover the cost of wind turbines, as that would reduce the incentive to put the wind turbine in a location suited for harvesting wind power.
For consumers getting what amounts to a free wind turbine, the pressure to put the turbine in a windy area, maximizing effectiveness, is reduced. Further, the program becomes attractive to people for whom a wind turbine might not be the right choice. “About 85% of the requests totaling US$6.7m were for rebate amounts close or equal to the total installed cost of the systems,” says Larry Sherwood in a February 2012 article entitled “Can small wind certification buoy U.S. consumer confidence?” The CEC appropriately decided that it would rather not invest in underperforming wind turbines.
New Jersey’s malfunction headaches
Manufacturing defects in Enertech wind turbines at two separate locations in New Jersey was cause for the state to put a hold on its rebate incentive for small wind turbines. The failure occurred in March of 2011, and the program is continuing the hold on new applications.
The program is exploring options to ensure the safety of the turbines as well as the financial security of the owner of a turbine that experiences a major failure not covered by the warranty.
Certification to the rescue?
The Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) is certifying products to a standard designed to prevent turbine manufacturers from producing less durable products and claiming inflated production numbers. It is worth noting here that Enertech, though under contract to certify one small wind turbine model, has yet to begin testing the turbine for certification.
This certification process aims to bring stability and growth to a market plagued by inconsistencies. As the popularity of the certification grows, SWCC is also working with many states to integrate certification into their rebate programs. Hopefully, a more stable reputation will help the market grow and overcome other obstacles, such as permitting difficulties, that lie in the way of broader acceptance.
For more information, read Certification Gets Small Wind Turbine Market Turning in this month’s issue of EBN and find turbine selection guidance, including a list of recommended turbines, in GreenSpec.
Posted by Martin Solomon on May 16, 2012
— Share This Posting!
I am a little (a lot) late to this conversation, but I think the only wood-burning appliances should be direct vent masonry ovens which burn at...
Am hearing about this new technology and seeing positive reviews online but have also being told that they're not appropriate for larger, older...