Wind turbine benefits may be more personal than profitable
Installing a wind turbine for energy needs may be a good green practice, but without careful planning, it may not result in the kind of green that's good for the wallet.
Purdue University renewable energy specialist Chad Martin said there are many factors to consider when installing a wind turbine to generate power on the farm, and economic feasibility is certainly one of them.
"Landowners may choose for various reasons to install a wind turbine for energy production," Martin said. "But the benefits may be more for personal reasons than profit."
Farmers or landowners interested in wind turbines should do an energy audit of their current operation to determine energy efficiency, Martin said. That should include asking the power utility for the true cost of electricity per kilowatt hour. That price includes the cost of maintenance and service, power delivery to the property, and the company's costs for generating the electricity.
"Indiana's electric rates are moderate relative to other states," Martin said. "Small-scale wind energy production may be economically challenging in this state until utility rates escalate and public policies requiring the use of renewable energy sources are integrated."
Martin said utility-scale projects, such as the wind farms established in Benton County, generate more profit because they have the advantage of larger economies of scale and broader distribution to areas where power demand exists because of renewable energy standards.
Martin also said farmers need to decide whether they live in a truly windy location.
"Wind is the fuel for generating the electricity, and without ample fuel, the turbine will not be an efficient or a wise investment," he said.
Most of northern Indiana is among the windiest areas in the state, and, therefore, the most likely to support wind energy production, Martin said. To determine the specific wind speed in a given location, he suggests going online to http://navigator.awstruewind.com . The site allows users to enter a specific address and receive a geographic information system, or GIS, map of the area. The U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory also has a map of Indiana's wind power potential located online at http://www.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/windpoweringamerica .
For those interested in pursuing wind power, there may be funding sources that could help make it more financially feasible, Martin said.
For Hoosier businesses, public and non-profit entities, the Alternative Power and Energy Grant program is currently offering funds to help with the purchase of alternative energy systems, including wind power. Offered by the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development, the program's goal is to help offset fossil fuel use and serve as an educational tool. More information is available at http://www.in.gov/oed/2376.htm . The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development offers funding through the 2008 Farm Bill to assist with the installation of renewable energy projects and improved efficiency. More information is available on the Web at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov .
Martin said it's important for those considering the merits of small turbines to consult with a developer on how to construct and locate the turbine.
"Also follow up with current owners of small wind turbines and discuss their experiences with the technology," he said.
More information on how to use wind turbines for local power generation may be found in the Purdue Extension publication "Energy from the Wind: Planning a Small Turbine for Rural Areas of Indiana." It is available on the Purdue BioEnergy Web site at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/bioenergy/ .