Is Your Energy Blowing in the Wind?
In your anguish over energy costs, perhaps a light bulb has lit in your brain; the answer, you think, is blowing in the wind.
Wind--that force that blows your neighbor's leaves into your yard and turns umbrellas inside out--can spin electricity-generating turbines in your back yard.
But flutter not the heart that yearns for cheap power--it's not that easy. Sure, there are huge wind farms in the world generating tons of electricity, but maybe there's a reason we all don't have our private wind turbines.
First, there is the question of wind itself. You need an average of ten miles an hour, according to the American Wind Energy Association. If hills or trees shelter you, then the wind may not be strong or consistent enough. On the other hand, if you live on a ridge, near the ocean, on the Great Plains, or someplace else where you regularly curse an incessant breeze, you might be in the right place.
Obviously, you should crank the numbers to see just how cheap your energy might be. You need to know your current and projected costs of electricity, how much energy your proposed system would provide (size of generator and wind speed), and how much installation would cost. Know your rebates--there is a 30 percent federal tax credit, and you may have local rebates as well. Many utilities will give you credit for excess electricity that you send back into their grid, though they may not credit you at 100 percent of what they charge you for power. Of course, as long as a turbine tower is aesthetically placed on your land, it should add to your property value.
And what about the aesthetics of a wind turbine? A large propeller spinning on a tower some eighty feet or more above the ground isn't something most people are going to want next to their home--neither are their neighbors in cities or suburbia. And they make a little noise, so again, keeping it away from your house and neighbors is desirable. An acre of land would be nice. Some areas, either municipalities or neighborhood organizations, have prohibited wind turbines.
Environmentally, wind turbines are great. For every kilowatt of power produced by your wind machine, there is one less kilowatt required of a coal-fired, nuclear, or hydro plant. But there are some drawbacks. For example, there can be a small amount of noise pollution. And many environmentalists have concerns about bird and bat kills. Of course, you wouldn't put a spinning blade next to your bird-feeding station. But for a residential turbine, animal kill should be minimal--far less havoc on the avian population than your (or your neighbor's) cat will wreak.
Wind power isn't just a flight of fancy. But to keep from blowing your money, you should carefully weigh the conditions.
Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.