It’s not easy being small…

Timlynn Babitsky | Benefits & Support,Communities of Wind | Friday, May 2nd, 2008

by Timlynn Babitsky
Nearly 98% of all wind generation is owned by Big Corps – independent power producers and electric utilities. The rest – 2% to 3% – is owned by us little guys – farmers, ranchers, schools, towns, businesses, and colleges. The issues, policies, etc., of these two wind-generation ‘worlds’ are different. You need to understand the differences, and what does/does not apply to your own wind agenda so you can identify the best allies to support you and be prepared to answer your resistors.

One of the best comparisons I’ve seen between the Goliaths of wind generation and us Davids is an excellent presentation that Tom Wind gave in Kansas in March 2008. Tom is a community wind activist working out of Jefferson Iowa. He is an engineer experienced in the utility business sector and has been involved in a number of projects where towns/farms/businesses have installed single turbines or small clusters of turbines on distribution lines.

In Getting Community Wind Off the Ground Tom first compares Corporate-owned and Community-owned wind projects, then drills down on Community Wind Project specifics:

  • Describing some example projects
  • Identifying key issues
  • Laying out the development steps for various types of projects
  • Identifying the policies needed to make Community Wind possible

He provides good information that will help you identify the project with the greatest interest and potential for success (Step One in the Seventeen Steps to Success):

  • Wind turbines for farms make economic sense for small to medium sized farms when net metering is available, but are generally not favorable for very large agricultural operations.
  • Wind turbines are attractive for family owned businesses where longer pay-back periods are acceptable but may not be attractive to large businesses where short pay-back periods on capital investments are expected.
  • A single person or small group who pushes the project and doesn’t give up can make your school or college project successful.

And Tom suggests “currencies” that can attract potential stakeholders:

Farmer-owned wind farms: Make a case for a good economic return to attract the equity partner and to justify the farmer’s out-of-pocket development costs.

Although Tom doesn’t mention these all in his presentation, there are definitely specific issues for Community Wind Projects that do not affect Corporate Wind Projects:

  • Problem: Big Corps are snapping up new turbines before they even hit the market leaving us little guys on a 2-year wait list; unless you order 50 or more turbines you may not even get turbine producers’ attention.
  • Possible Solutions: Find reasonable used/refurbished turbines; find a non-US manufacturer who will sell smaller numbers of turbines; nose around in the wind business news to find turbines that were committed to other projects that are now not needed.
  • Problem: Single turbine projects cost more money. Well yes, that IS true.
  • Possible Solution: Reasonable cost savings can come from getting a used/refurbished turbine instead of a new one.

There are many economic factors involved in any wind project. Some are positive, some are negative. Your job is to do your homework. Find every possible plus factor that relates to your project. Research into every possible negative factor and see if/how it can be mitigated.

If you are interested in Community Wind Projects Tom Wind suggests that you work with/support your local, state and federal wind advocacy groups to get wind power policies in place that support us “little guys” – valuable things come in small packages…

 ….and community wind projects keep those crucial energy dollars so much closer to home.

As a final thought, Tom notes that a key factor in the success of every Community Wind Project is a determined local champion who does not give up easily. (That would be YOU!)

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