More new wind power facilities were installed
in the U.S. last year than anywhere else in the world. According
to the Global Wind Energy Council, the U.S. installed 2,400
megawatts—equivalent to the energy produced by five large
coal-fired power plants in a year—in 2005 alone. These
were mainly large wind farms.
Putting up your own wind turbine to provide electricity is technically
feasible, but the costs for permitting, purchasing, installing,
and maintaining the technology remain prohibitive for all but
the wealthiest, especially given the low costs of traditional
power from the electricity grid across the United States.
A Gloucester, Mass. resident recently spent $30,000 to erect
a 10,000-watt, 125-foot-tall wind turbine in her tiny backyard
in order to generate her own pollution-free electricity. The
turbine worked well initially, generating most of the power for
her house, but then it broke and the $10,000 part required to
make it run again was too expensive, so the equipment has remained
dormant ever since.
But the hard economic facts of backyard wind power are not enough
to deter some idealists from working to build both supply and
demand for what many view as the world’s cleanest form
of renewable energy. For one, the nonprofit Northwest Sustainable
Energy for Economic Development (NWSEED) has launched a program
called “Our Wind Cooperative” to promote customer-owned
wind power among farmers and other rural landowners in the Pacific
NWSEED put together a package of federal and private funding
options for those willing to put small turbines for personal
and public use on their land. The U.S. Department of Energy’s
National Renewable Energy Systems Laboratory (NREL) gave the
project a $300,000 grant, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
kicked in $50,000. Also, the nonprofit Bonneville Environmental
Foundation extended a low-interest loan, and pledged to buy and
help generate further demand for some of the power generated.
By the end of 2003, NWSEED had enough money to install small
turbines on 10 rural sites in Montana and Washington. So far,
five are running and a sixth is due to go online soon. Though
each turbine costs $40,000, grants have kept participant costs
to under $10,000. Without the subsidy, the program would not
be cost effective in the short run but, like all new technologies,
costs will come down as demand grows. And as a pilot program
to showcase wind’s potential, the project is considered
to be a rousing success.
Elsewhere, in Silicon Valley, a slew of alternative energy firms,
including many focusing on small-scale wind power, are being
born. Among them are AeroVironment and Aerotecture, both specializing
in backyard windmills that power lights, appliances, and heating
and cooling systems without polluting.