A Conversation with Small Wind Energy Specialist, Trudy Forsyth

There are only a handful of people who know the small wind industry like Trudy Forsyth.

Forsyth has worked in wind energy since 1994. Today, she’s got a collection of hats: she is the liaison between the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Small Wind Turbine Committee, which wrote and published the AWEA Small Wind Turbine Industry Roadmap. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC), serves on the steering committee for Women of Wind Energy, and under the Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America (WPA) program, she distributes small wind turbine technical and state policy/market information to wind audiences throughout the United States. She chairs the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Small Wind Division and is also part of the National Organizing Committee for SOLAR 2009.

Whew.

“Yes, I’ve been in small wind energy for the past 15 years, but since 2000, the industry has really emerged as a player because of interest and demand. That’s really hastened the infrastructure to come to light,” she said.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has been a big supporter of small wind energy issues. “Early on, DOE’s Dennis Lin recognized the value of SWCC, and the enormous value of having a standard. He approved SWCC’s budget, and supported NABCEP for its small wind energy task analysis. Lin supported independent turbine testing. In fact, DOE’s Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is in the second round of offering funding for testing by other entities. And last, but not least, the inclusion of small wind energy language in the National Electric Code (NEC) is the final piece of the infrastructure puzzle.”

There’s been lots of good news in the small wind industry recently: the creation of organizations like the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP); Mick Sagrillo’s small wind conference in Wisconsin, and the first federal incentive, thanks to the eight-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Ron Stimmel, AWEA’s small wind point person, tells us that small wind energy saw a 96% growth from 2007. Some 19 MW, about 10,500 units were installed in 2008. With this kind of rapid growth, before a strong federal incentivized market was in place, what can we expect next?

Forsyth thinks we’d better buckle our seat belts really tightly. “Yes, the past several years have been extremely busy ones for the industry,” she said, “lots of growth, lots of favorable policies to help accelerate growth, but it’s not been without it’s share of challenges.”

For example, some state electrical inspectors are shutting down small wind installations.

“It started in Washington State,” said Forsyth, “when an electrical inspector discovered that the small wind installation he was inspecting wasn’t certified, so he shut it down. While it was fairly worrisome to think that electrical inspectors could shut down installations, what we really understood was that these inspectors needed education and training.”

Forsyth worked with Mike Nelson, of the Northwest Solar Center, who sat down with Washington State’s chief electrical inspector. “Clearly when a state electrical inspector or construction organization shuts down installs across a state, it’s a big problem,” said Forsyth. “We showed him the SWCC standards, NABCEP’s small wind installer task analysis, and the incentives offered nation-wide, as an overview of how the small wind industry has matured over the past several years. The last thing any of us want is unsafe systems installed by unqualified installers,” she said. Interestingly, the states of New Mexico and Oregon have also lodged complaints about small wind energy systems from their electrical inspectors.

“These guys are just out there doing their jobs, inspecting systems,” said Forsyth. “We’re starting all over again with small wind and electrical inspectors. As more people become familiar with or are learning about small wind energy systems, there are more and more of them out there in the field. Electrical inspectors will be seeing more of these systems, which means they’ll need to learn about them. And that’s where we’ll come in to educate and train those inspectors.”

In fact, Forsyth, wearing her ‘Wind Powering America (WPA) hat,’ is headed to New Mexico in March to sit down with its electrical inspectors to do just that.

“WPA helps markets that are ‘stuck,’ ” said Forsyth, “by developing and disseminating targeted information, analyses and tools. The state electrical inspectors who are unfamiliar with small wind energy standards are the perfect market for our educational support.”

In the current ITC, there’s money for the first time for small wind energy systems. Small wind systems of 100 kilowatts (kW) of capacity and less can receive a credit for 30% of the total installed cost of the system. However, there’s no provision in the ITC for turbines that are credentialed. The money is available whether or not the turbine is certified,” said Forsyth. “There needs to be a remedy for this, some long-term policy that will ensure that only certified turbines receive the tax credit.”

AWEA now recognizes the importance of small wind energy systems. “Jim Walker, President of AWEA’s Board of Directors, believes AWEA should lift all boats — including small wind and community wind,” said Forsyth. “That’s a good thing because a bad small wind installation can affect the large wind industry.”

AWEA will sponsor the Small Wind/Community Wind conference in Portland, Oregon in October

“It’s especially satisfying to see the small wind industry finally emerge as strong and viable,” says Forsyth. “These are busy times for us.”

 

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