Wind energy grows through on site turbines

By MEREDITH MACKENZIE, UPI Correspondent   |   March 13, 2006 at 9:26 AM
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BOSTON, March 13 (UPI) -- When it comes to renewable energy diversification, smaller may be better. Wind power is making gains to diversify energy sources through small projects that are being done on-site facilities.

"We are the only ones putting wind turbines at facilities," said Henry duPont of Lorax Energy Systems LLC at last week's Northeast Sustainable Energy Association annual conference. "We put them up at water treatment plants, schools, prisons, and industrial buildings that use the energy on site."

What duPont's company does is place wind turbines behind the meter so the energy generated by the turbine displaces what is coming from the grid.

"Then you're not buying that energy at the meter, and you are saving the cost at the retail value," he said.

Large wind farms generate energy that is sold back to the system at a wholesale value, up to 15 cents less than retail. During windy periods and off-shift times at commercial facilities, the energy that is generated can be sold back to the utility. Lorax sells wind turbines rated from 100kW up to 1300kW.

Because of the inconsistent nature of wind power and the lack of control over the output, wind generators like this can't be used as a source of back-up power. But duPont says wind energy when used in small on-site projects is six to eight times more economic than solar power.

"It costs $1 million in wind investments to generate 2 million kW hours per year," he said. "But for the exact same amount of solar energy costs $2 million. If you want the most bang for your buck, invest in wind."

Another advantage duPont sees in small-scale wind turbine operations is public relations value.

"It's 20 stories high and it's screaming 'We generate green energy,'" he said.

He said one of his clients, a plastic parts manufacturer, actually saw a small increase in sales after putting up its turbine.

One of duPont's most successful clients in terms of positive public relations is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 and their business agent, Martin E. Aikens. The $540,000 wind turbine constructed by the IBEW on its property served as a training tool to educate members in how to do the electrical work in renewable technology. The union chapter paid for half the cost of the turbine and received a grant for the rest.

"The thing will pay itself off in six years," said Aikens. "Everyone wants to know what's the payback, but if we can do it, anyone can do it."

The IBEW training facility in Dorchester, Mass., is now run on almost 30 percent wind energy. But the training experience is another real reason the union decided to take on the challenge of getting a wind turbine.

"The demand is starting," Aikens said. "But first you need the training."

The IBEW project is part of what Jonathan S. Edwards of SmartPower calls "iconic leadership."

"On-site generation is one of the best icons, you can find to tell the public it's real, it's here, it's working," he said.

Yet challenges remain. The nature of government incentives and subsidies is inconsistent.

"Federal production tax credits work on-again, off-again policy," said duPont. "It's not easy to operate in an environment like that."

For Aikens and the brotherhood of 103, it is the local bureaucracy that plagues them. The union wants to continue to train and to incorporate wind power into other facilities, but Aikens said permits for such projects are hard to obtain.

"Permits are tough; you have to get everyone to buy into it."

Aikens himself is sold.

"The price of oil isn't going down," he said. "You want to be energy independent? Let us build a couple more of these things."

Henry duPont believes though the wind industry is headed toward bigger turbines and large wind farms he is confident that wind power, weather farmed or generated on site is the future of renewable energy. He lowers his voice to divulge the best part of wind energy.

"This is just between us," he whispers. "But the wind even blows at night."

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(Comments to energy@upi.com)

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