Is Wind Energy Right For Your Home?
This country's first wind energy boom was mostly a bust. The wind turbines installed in the 1970s and early 1980s tended to be noisy, required a lot of maintenance, and didn't really produce all that much electricity. By the time the wind boom fizzled out, oil prices were low and energy was cheap and abundant, so those who installed residential wind turbines ended up getting a pretty poor return on their investment. This time around, it should be different, at least for some. The technology is much improved, for one thing, and global warming and the reality of finite fossil fuel resources mean that alternative energy sources are destined to become mainstream.
Where it Works
There are few areas where wind turbines won't function, but there are definitely better and worse areas to install them. Because wind turbines are large, they're generally more suitable for large lots of at least an acre or more. Modern wind turbines are fairly quiet, but they're not silent, and you want your turbine to be at least a couple hundred feet from the property line--and your neighbors' ears. Installing wind turbines on large lots also diminishes the visual impact of the tower (to work well, wind turbines should be installed at least 65 feet off the ground).
Where it Doesn't
Because of noise and aesthetic concerns, wind turbines are far less ideal in more densely populated suburban and urban areas. Because wind turbine towers are tall, they are also prohibited within 20,000 feet of an airport. Some models are designed to be installed on top of urban buildings, but too often these turbines don't operate effectively because they aren't installed high enough to rise above air turbulence.
In most municipalities, residential dwellings are limited to a maximum height of 35 feet, which was as high as fire fighting equipment could effectively spray water at the turn of the 20th century, when this limit was generally adopted. This means that, unless your town or state has adopted residential wind turbine legislation--and most have not--you have to get a variance. This can be a time consuming and frustrating process, especially if you're the first one in your town to request one.
Cost and Benefit
Installing a wind turbine is pricey, often over $10,000, although you can recoup up to 30 percent of the cost via the recently enacted tax credit. Once installed, wind turbines generally cut electric bills by at least 50 percent and often by as much as 90 percent. Because of these savings, wind turbine systems typically pay for themselves in six to 15 years, and are designed to last for at least 20 years, with relatively low maintenance.
Brett Freeman is a freelance journalist. He also owns a landscaping and irrigation company in North Carolina. Previously he has worked as a beat reporter, a teacher, and for a home improvement company, and he used to own a bar/live music venue.