3) Determine Your Siting
Given how large these structures are, you need to carefully consider where on your property to place the turbine.
Even if you have the land space required, you can’t just plop these anywhere, Killian stresses. There’s the view of your neighbors to consider, adjacent structures, bird safety, airport traffic, power lines, and even landscaping such as tall trees.
Your municipality will have zoning guidelines you need to follow, or if you’re a pioneer in your community, your project may become the test case.
“In Chicago, for example, the zone requires a radius that is 10% larger than the turbine’s aerial footprint,” Miller explains. “If your turbine hub is 150 feet and you have another 80 feet for the blades, that’s 230 feet plus 10%, which is a 250-foot radius. Obviously you need a very large area. At the same time, you have to make sure this extra buffer doesn’t spill over your property line.”
Your manufacturer or a consultant can help you navigate siting considerations, including any topographical barriers that could complicate the project, adds Atkinson.
4) Check Grid Connectivity and Metering
Connecting a wind turbine to the grid, as with any other renewable energy source, can make utility providers wary. Safety and connection stability aside, you need to investigate pay rates. The optimal arrangement is for your local power provider to allow net metering.
“The utility will install a meter that runs both ways,” Killian explains. “When the turbine is generating excess power your facility can’t use, the meter will spin the other way.”
What this means is that when you dump clean energy onto the grid, you receive credit for it at the same rate you would normally purchase it. The utility receives a source of green energy and what you produced doesn’t go to waste.
Be cautious that not every utility is on board with net metering. You need to have this conversation before you commit to your project, says Ryan Gilchrist, assistant director of business development for Urban Green Energy (UGE), a provider of building-integrated turbines. There could also be expensive utility upgrades you have to make to enable such an arrangement, which could negatively impact your margins if you don’t account for them at the project’s onset.
“Even if your utility offers this option, there’s no universal net metering thresholds among states or even within utility regions,” Atkinson explains. “Some may have allowances of 100 kW, some are only 50. Some could be unlimited while others are up to 20 MW. It’s all over the map, so know what your state or region will permit.”
There are also arrangements that are less than favorable for building owners. A growing number of states have mandated that utilities offer net metering, but without this enforcement, some utility regions may still offer an avoided rate.
“You may pay 10 cents per kW but only get 2 or 3 cents for your wind energy. In these situations, the economics are terrible and may impede an attractive payback,” cautions Atkinson.
5) Look for Independent Verification
Not sure if the reputation and quality of your manufacturer’s claims are valid? Greenwashing can stain even the most promising products, so keep a sharp eye out for independent verification.
“You want to make sure the machine has third-party verification or reports that validate how the turbine will behave, particularly with acoustics and power curve,” Atkinson says.
There are two certifying bodies for wind turbines:
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) offers comprehensive wind turbine metrics. These includes design requirements, acoustic noise measurement techniques, measurement of mechanical loads, and communications for monitoring and control of wind power plants.
The Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) applies to small and medium turbines and has been adopted by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). It
covers rated annual energy output, power, and sound level. Certified turbines must also satisfy durability and safety requirements.
Power curves, annual energy performance curves, and measured sound pressure levels are provided for all models. Note the standard only verifies test results rather than conducts them, and towers and foundations are not within its scope.
“I would also urge any prospective investor to get project references from a manufacturer’s clients,” adds Atkinson.
6) Anticipate Maintenance Service and Warranty
Your car needs periodic oil changes and so will your turbine eventually. These units are not maintenance-free and preventive upkeep is key to preserving your investment for years on end.
Like your roof, wind turbines are offered with a warranty, though these vary by manufacturer. Two years is average for a utility-scale turbine and smaller ones may offer up to five years of coverage, says Atkinson. These generally cover parts for failures, though not always labor for those repairs.
Maintenance can be purchased as a separate contract through your vendor or you can connect with an independent firm that specializes in maintenance services. Expect one or two yearly visits for scheduled maintenance.
Case Study #3: TESTA PRODUCE
This utility-scale turbine at Testa Produce was one of the first installed in Chicago. It helps to power a LEED Platinum freezer/cooler distribution facility with over 90,000 square feet of office and warehouse space.
The 260-foot unit was installed in April 2011 and generates 880,000 kWh annually, roughly 30% of the building’s power. One of the project’s challenges was securing code approval, as zone requirements had to be written from scratch to cover installations in the Windy City.
Blown Away by ROI
There’s no denying that the price tag of a wind turbine may make some building owners blanch, but most would be surprised to know they only need to wait a decade or so to reap free energy.
“Make no doubt, these turbines pay for themselves in 10-15 years, which is faster than geothermal or solar,” Miller says. “Our clients aren’t speculative developers that are going to turn around and immediately sell the property. These are businesses that are building facilities that will last 100 years, which allows owners to take a long-term view with ROI and payback.”
“There’s three legs to the wind ROI stool – wind resource, utility rates, and incentives and grants,” Atkinson adds. “You don’t have to be in a super windy spot or in a high utility region. If you can get those three metrics to align and optimize your upfront costs, wind can work out very nicely.”
Beyond local and state funding, owners can turn to federal incentives such as the Investor Tax Credit, which offers a 30% credit for expenditures on small wind turbines that are 100 kW or less or 10% for microturbines that are 2 MW or less. Take note that these expire in 2016, so time is limited for eligibility.
Beyond your utility bill, look for soft benefits. Intrigued onlookers may turn into potential customers or business investors.
“There’s an enormous public relations opportunity with wind, especially free advertising if your company logo is painted on the tower,” says Miller. “A wind turbine is showing a commitment by a corporation that they’re all in with sustainability. It’s a real statement when your company invests in a high-profile feature like this.” “We’ve had many commercial customers tell us their foot traffic increased by 20 to 30% after they installed a turbine simply because people were curious,” adds Atkinson.
Jennie Morton firstname.lastname@example.org is senior editor of BUILDINGS.