NEW YORK: Ample funding but customer acceptance still an issue

Since 2004, New York state (NYS) has had a small wind incentive program, and a good one at that.

According to DSIRE, funding is available for systems between 800W-250kW, up to $150,000 per site. All units must be new, program-approved models. There are specific requirements for inverters, and system monitoring equipment is required. All systems must be grid-connected and installed by a NYSERDA-approved installer.

“We still have just over $1 million left in this year’s budget,” said Mark Mayhew, Project Manager for NYSERDA‘s Small Wind Incentive Program. “We’ve funded 13 installations so far this year, and another ten are in the process.”

With small wind now able to take advantage of the federal investment tax credit, has New York, like other states, seen fit to curb or cut back its small wind incentive? “It didn’t make any sense to reduce the incentive level,” said Mayhew, “in part because we’ve not spent our budgets down. In fact, our PSC is currently reviewing NYS’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, and is considering increasing funding for small wind energy systems. We hope to be seeing more money for small wind energy systems.”

Though funding is ample, small wind installations can still be a hard sell.

“Truth is,”said Mayhew,”wind energy systems–large or small–still generate a lot of controversy. People either really love them or hate them. Even though small wind energy systems are usually a single turbine, people associate them with large, utility-scale wind farms”

Roy Butler with Four Winds Renewable Energy, in Arkport, NY, and a NYSERDA-eligible wind installer, agrees. “There are a lot of misconceptions in people’s minds about wind power,” said Butler, “and one of them is that there’s no difference between small and large wind when it comes to bird kills, stray voltage, noise, decreased property values, increased property taxes. Those of us in the small wind field have to defend what we do against the fallout caused by large wind. Add to this a lack of reliable, efficient, cost-effective turbines and you’ve got a problem.”

Still, rural applications are the largest user group for small wind turbines in NYS, according to Mayhew, for a variety of reasons.

“NYSERDA’s program is really geared toward 10 kW, grid-connected systems. That’s the size that the incentive makes the most economical sense for the homeowner, and that’s where the vast majority of applications fall. Additionally, the program requires a minimum lot size of one acre and typically the tower location must be 100 feet away from any property line. By the way, the program doesn’t support building-mounted systems. Add them up, and those requirements pretty much take away the opportunities for urban applications of small wind energy systems.”

What if a consumer needs more than 10kW? Can the NYSERDA incentive work for this? “Yes,” said Mayhew, “but the incentive amount is reduced to 40% for the second machine.”

So what options are available for the consumer who wants a system larger than 10kW? “The market will have to dictate what the manufacturers develop for turbines in the 15kW and up range. Several are under development now, but it will take quite a while to go from concept to tried and true equipment,”says Butler. Enter the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC), an independent certification body that will certify small wind turbines. “SWCC will certainly help weed out the inferior small wind turbines by giving the consumers a handy way to compare machines,” said Butler.

Though net metering and interconnection issues don’t plague small wind energy systems the way they do for photovoltaics, the cap on net metering in NYS is an issue. “For small commercial installations without a demand meter,” said Mayhew, “the system size caps are all over the place; one utility is at 12 kW, another is 5kW. Both are lower than the residential cap of 25kW. Sites with a demand meter are capped at their historic demand, which is also limiting, especially if a consumer is looking to generate most of their electricity with a turbine.” According to Butler, about 85% of owners of small wind energy systems connect to the grid with the intent of lowering their electric bills. “The remainder install them for off-grid homes and cabin systems.”

NYSERDA’s current incentives program for eligible wind installers is designed to increase the network of small wind energy installers in New York State, which currently number about 20. With this program, incentives are provided for eligible installers who install approved, grid-connected wind generation systems. Requirements include experience, customer references, training and education, and $1 million in general liability insurance and auto insurance. Incentives are passed on to the customer.

“There’s a definite lack of skilled workers to perform site assessments and install systems,” said Butler. “But consumers are taking advantage of the state and federal tax incentives. They’re seeing rising electricity costs, and re-prioritizing. None of us can keep up with the demand now.”

Despite the generous funding and support, small wind energy systems’ biggest challenges are still local acceptance. “The home or business owner must get local approval,” said Mayhew. “We had one town that no matter what anyone did, the installation just wasn’t going to be approved. Other communities love them. Mostly, it’s trying to educate people about the technology, and correct misinformation.”

“In fact,” says Mayhew, “one of our installers says the easiest part of installing a wind turbine, is installing the small wind turbine. The hardest part is getting permission to do so.”

 

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