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Small Wind Could Be Big Business in the Midwest

April 20, 2009

Washington, D.C. - That wind that whips across the prairie could be part of the clean energy solution for many Minnesota homeowners, through what's known as "small wind" power. That's differentiated from the large turbines that stand in formation on wind farms across the Midwest. Prices are dropping and federal help for homeowners looking to make their own electricity is 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 needs to be replaced with statewide standards.

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

Stimmel says that in the Midwest, only Wisconsin is among that group of seven.

In many cases the current local permitting system discourages the development of small wind, and opponents of statewide standards say it would lead to a loss of local zoning control.

Stimmel says prices have been dropping and federal tax credits help defray the cost. He says the payoff on a home wind system can be huge.

"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 life time."

The average home system can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000, depending on how large the turbine is, but Stimmel says many states and the federal government pitch in to defray costs.

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

As unemployment rose and other industries contracted last year, the wind power generating industry grew by 70 percent in 2008, employing 85,000 individuals nationwide.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MN