Interview with Rich Hasselman, Wisconsin Focus on Energy

Interview by Jane Pulaski, Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc.

Richard Hasselman is the Wind Energy Lead for Focus on Energy, overseeing the wind energy components of Focus on Energy’s program in Wisconsin. Richard is also active in Focus on Energy’s Agricultural and Rural Business program, delivering energy efficiency services to Wisconsin’s agriculture market. In addition to his work with the Focus on Energy Program, Rich provides consulting services as a project manager for GDS Associates. Clients include utilities, state programs and end use customer feasibility studies for both small and utility-scale wind systems. Richard has an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, with a certificate in energy analysis and policy, as well as an M.B.A. from University of Wisconsin/Madison.

In a recent conversation with IREC, Rich graciously answered a few questions about small wind energy activities in Wisconsin.

IREC: Wisconsin has a long-standing history of supporting renewable energy, like small wind.  Its Focus on Energy Program offers incentives for small wind systems between 1kW-100kW through its Unlisted Small Wind Turbine Incentive Program—at least through July 1, 2010.  Is there a lot of activity going on in this area within Focus?

RH: Within Focus on Energy, the small wind portion of the program is the smallest of the renewable energy efforts. This has been driven by a number of factors including the market availability of qualified turbines in the past, incentive levels that have been historically lower than solar electric on a per kWh basis, the growth in the market for solar electric as an alternative product, and the availability of utility tariffs that provided much higher buy-back rates for solar electric systems. Small wind is still an emerging market, and although we are seeing strong growth from the last two program years, it remains a relatively small market.

IREC: Now that the Small Wind Certification Council is up and running, will that help mitigate one of those issues you just mentioned—market availability of qualified turbines?

RH: We are looking forward to the emerging Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) certifications and intend to roll these certifications into expectations for qualifying turbines. The SWCC will be a very important component in a growing small wind industry.

IREC: So let’s get back to those obstacles you mentioned. If we put aside the turbine certification issue, what would you say is the biggest obstacle for small wind in Wisconsin today?

RH: System cost remains the largest obstacle. The other aspect is Wisconsin’s relative middling quality wind resource, which puts small wind systems in a more direct competition with solar electric systems. Wisconsin has seen a great deal of interest in small wind systems, though actual installations remain a small percentage relative to the interest.

IREC: When I think of small wind systems I think of water pumping, but maybe that’s not the prevalent use any longer. Have system sizes increased as well?

RH: The average system is roughly 20kW. In the last two years we have seen a trend to larger systems in the 35kW to 100kW size range. Generally speaking we are seeing fewer systems less than 10kW than in the past. So the trend is toward larger small systems, though Wisconsin has had substantial past success with re-manufactured 35kW and 90kW systems, too. We are also seeing greater demand for taller towers as purchasers see the benefits of taller towers in terms of gaining kWh for relatively modest additional expense.

IREC: So which size systems are getting the most activity? 20kW? 50kW?

RH: Focus on Energy defines small wind as 100kW or less nameplate generator capacity. In the past, we mostly saw systems of 20kW or less being installed. In the last few years, there has been a surge of interest in the 20kW-100kW size. There appears to be a growing market in non-residential systems, with a greater emphasis on the larger end of the small wind turbine market. In terms of the number of systems, we see a fairly even split between residential and non-residential customers. However, if you look at kW capacity and kWh generation, we are seeing the non-residential market pulling well ahead of the residential market. The major non-residential markets appear to be schools and agricultural producers. There are a fair number of other non-residential customers, such as industrial facilities and commercial properties, but not to the degree that schools and the agricultural appear to be driving demand.

IREC: Is permitting an issue for small wind energy in Wisconsin, and how are you responding to that?

RH: A major barrier has been Wisconsin’s patchwork of local regulations regarding permitting. This creates many variables for installers and customers, with many permitting requirements reflecting concerns over utility size systems that don’t recognize the substantial differences with small wind. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is developing statewide wind siting rules in an effort to harmonize across the state, though specifics of any proposed rules have not been released and are in process.

IREC: So how does Focus on Energy support small wind?

RH: Focus on Energy provides support along the entire small wind value chain. This includes qualifying products and installers for incentives, supporting training programs for installers and site assessors, providing potential small wind purchasers with fact sheets and case studies, co-funding and requiring site assessments in advance of awarding incentives, awarding incentives to projects on a per kWh basis, and helping to address specific project barriers that emerge. Focus on Energy also helps coordinate efforts to support USDA REAP applications, which provide valuable additional incentives. There are many details within each of these aspects of the program, but we attempt to support the market from tip to tail.

IREC:  From tip to tail—great analogy. Isn’t the industry more sophisticated today than it was a few years ago? I know it’s a smaller market and industry than PV or solar thermal, but what exists is strong with highly talented people like Mick Sagrillo. In fact, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) has the first ISPQ certified small wind instructor (Clay Sterling) and ISPQ accredited small wind continuing education program. That’s some serious street cred. I would think the program is on a growth curve.

RH: In 2009, the program grew by roughly 35 percent, in terms of installed capacity and kWh over 2008. Our sense is that there is a great deal of existing latent demand that is yet to be tapped. In general, the industry is more sophisticated today than in the past, but there is still a great deal of evolution that will happen and needs to happen if the small wind industry is going to grow into new markets and types of customers.

There is no question that Wisconsin has high quality personnel involved with the industry. It’s a major reason for our success to date. The MREA and Mick Sagrillo have been major components of the success that Wisconsin has had with small wind and renewables in general. We expect many great things to come!

IREC:  No doubt. I’m sure it’s a daily challenge to keep all the plates in the air, but I’m always curious to know what’s surprised you about this work?

RH: For me personally, I’ve been surprised at how resilient the small wind industry remains despite substantial challenges and competition. By and large, the small wind industry is made up of many small manufacturers and has a relatively immature supply chain. Although the supply chain is strengthening it is not as strong or as well capitalized as the solar electric industry. Yet the small wind industry is able to compete in many locations against solar electric system manufactured by very large and efficient companies. This shows that with an improved market situation, small wind can make large strides to grow and compete.

IREC: It’s a viable technology that has a place in the marketplace. And let’s not forget NABCEP (North American Board for Certified Energy Practictioners) — aren’t they expected to release a job task analysis for small wind soon? Once that hits the street, people will sit for the exam to become NABCEP-certified small wind energy installer. How will that impact your work?

RH: Focus on Energy requires a site assessment from a certified site assessor prior to approving an incentive application. To date, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) has provided the training and support for their training and certification; indeed, I was certified a few years ago. The NABCEP certification will add a national component to site assessment certification that will benefit the entire small wind market. In large part, the site assessments help end users make smart choices about technology and their specific situations. As Wisconsin is part of the national market, we’ve seen the issues that can arise absent good quality site assessments. We’ve been well served by the MREA’s process and anticipate that the NABCEP certification will be as high quality as the MREA’s. Focus on Energy does not require a MREA specific certification, so once the details of the NABCEP certification are known, we will review their processes and determine whether it can be adopted for Focus on Energy.

IREC: So what’s up next…what’s in the queue?

RH: We are watching to see how the emerging SWCC certification begins to take hold, as well as future NABCEP certifications for site assessors or installers. Focus on Energy will want to support and encourage the adoption of industry best practices across the country, as we know that, on a national level, Wisconsin is highly influenced by the industry outside our borders. The more best practices are adopted by others, the better Wisconsin will be served by the small wind industry, in general. We are looking for ways to partner across states and programs to help reinforce these best practices.

IREC: Thanks, Rich. Keep up the great work.


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