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Small Wind Could Be Big Business in the Midwest

April 17, 2009

Washington, D.C. - That wind whipping across the prairie could be providing a bigger part of the clean energy solution for many homeowners, but local laws are getting in the way. The technology known as "small wind" contrasts with the large turbines that populate utility-scale wind farms across the Midwest. Prices are dropping and federal subsidies for homeowners looking to make their own electricity are available in the form of tax incentives.

However, Ron Stimmel, small wind advocate for the American Wind Energy Association, says the local patchwork of confusing rules stands in the way of small wind development - rules he believes should be replaced with uniform, statewide standards.

"Seven states in the U.S. have variations on a statewide permitting law or zoning ordinance. I certainly hope that it becomes a blueprint."

In the Midwest, only Wisconsin is among the group of seven. Unfortunately, says Stimmel, in many cases the current local permitting systems discourage small wind development. Home-sized turbine prices have been declining, he says, and the payback on the investment can be great.

"A small wind turbine can pay for itself in as little as five years, meaning you've got fixed, free electricity for the rest of the turbine's 20- or 30-year lifetime."

The average home system can cost between $10,000 and $60,000, depending on turbine size, but Stimmel says many states and the federal government help defray costs.

"As of October, the federal government now offers an investment tax credit of 30 percent of the total system cost."

Opponents of statewide standards say they would lead to a loss of local zoning control, particularly for home-rule cities, which often have comparatively tighter restrictions on height limits and noise emissions. As unemployment rose and other industries contracted last year, the wind industry grew by 70 percent in 2008, employing 85,000 individuals nationwide.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - SD