Big vs. Small Wind- Garth Ward

Transcript: (07.09.10)

Garth Ward : When I speak of big wind, I’m talking large units that have blades, generally, in excess of 80 feet. The units stand anywhere from 150 to 400 feet. Small wind is generally under 150 feet. The size generator is under 100 kilowatts, and a lot of times it’s not hooked to the grid. Big wind is meant to generate big power for the grid. And a lot of times when you set these places up, it’s a good place for wind, but there’s no way to get the power out. There’s no pipeline to get that amount of power off that hill or mountain, so to speak. So a lot of times the infrastructure has to be built to actually get the power out of the site to get it to the grid where it can be then distributed to each household. So when you start one of these projects, you generally have to hire out the site analyzation to see whether there’s enough wind there to actually do the project, secure land contracts from people in that area to put these up. They’ve got to visually plan on seeing 300 400 foot towers. And the power company, essentially, has the authority to say whether they will buy your power or not. Because they do not want to have a wind site that’s not going to produce a bunch of power for their power grid. So there may be places that look good for wind, but may not be high-production areas for them. So they won’t put in these large wind generators. Even though there may be enough for a small one. Additionally, on the big wind front, in most cases, like I said, the landowner does not own the windmill. And you have a lot of input from the neighbors that don’t want to see these from a half mile away. There’s just a lot of things that happen in the community that bring in a lot of work and workers from other areas that I feel don’t really need to be.

With small wind, on the other hand, you own the windmill. You can do your own study. It’s on your property. Small wind is generally meant to offset the power that the property or the business uses. It’s not meant to really make power and generate back to the grid. That’s the big wind power’s job. Small wind has not really taken on as many incentives. If I want to put up a 6 megawatt wind generator, I get all kinds of incentives from the state of Michigan. If I want to put one up in my back yard, they don’t know my name. There’s no incentives out there for us right now. And I believe that if I can’t afford a spot visually, economically, and feasibly for a big wind generator, there should be an avenue for the general public to, through their grain of sand, so to speak, on the beach, in their effort to add to the alternative energy movement. And right now in Michigan, there’s no avenue to the government for us to really do this. It’s all for big wind power to generate power for big-power companies. And as I understand it right now, one of the power companies has fulfilled their own estimate of their percentage of renewable energy. Now I’m not sure whether they really have to let any other alternative energy onto their grid, because they have “Achieved their quota of renewable energy.” So it’s 12%. Would 13% really be that much worse if we had another percentage or two of renewable energy? They do not have to let that power onto their grid, because that would take away from the power they sell to us. I pay 11 cents a kilowatt hour. The power generated from those green windmills that we wanted them to put up, is, for us, there to purchase at roughly 35 cents a kilowatt hour. That’s kind of a little bit more than I’m used to paying, over 300% increase, just because I wanted green power. That’s why when I look at the windmill in my back yard, there again, I first must look at the property and say, “Do I have a wasted house here? Do I have an electric hot water heater? Do I have a lot of electric things that are wasting the power that I can manipulate?” So if I manipulate my property to conserve the power, then I add the alternative energy, small wind power, I think, is a lot more applicable than we think. There are no real incentives out there other than the federal government is giving a small wind incentive of 30% tax break, which is bringing a lot of the mid range homeowners into the market where they’re now able to put up a small windmill. These windmills run generally under $20,000. They tie right to the power panel in your home. And that way, if there’s no wind, you’re hooked up to the power company just like you have been. If there is a lot of wind, then you are generating, sometimes, more than you are using in your house. And that’s where the word “net metering” comes in. They say things about, “What if I generate too much? I’ll have to ‘give it to the company’.” No. By law in Michigan, if you generate extra power during the day that you do not use, it’s cataloged on their meter, the same meter that’s on your home, and at the beginning of the next month, you are credited or given the power you over-generated. So technically, in their eyes, they are paying you for that power. Next month you are getting free what you over-generated this month. So that’s their mechanism of net metering and how to get the extra power you may generate. And mind you, when you turn on your windmill, you’re not generating right to the power company. Only 3-7% of the power I generate from my windmill goes to the power company. All the rest of it is generated right into my home, and I use it at that time. So the small wind incentive is that 30% of the project is kind of funded and helped, subsidized by the federal government. If we had some state incentives, that would for sure help us out. But then we get into zoning, and I think that would be much better left for another topic. That has a lot to do with a lot of the restrictions that are in Michigan today.