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Thread: Small wind: first steps before installation

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Small wind: first steps before installation

    Let's say I want to install a 70-foot tall 3 kW small wind turbine in my backyard. Assume I meet all zoning/setback requirements and approvals will be granted. Also assume that my state allows net metering. But before I make the investment in the turbine itself, how do I know if I have a wind resource that is worth my time and money? I should hire a consultant. But which one? Should I have them install an anemometer and get a year's worth of data first? Or should I hire a consultant that can provide an assessment and report within a month, with data based on model simulations and NREL wind maps?

    What would you do?

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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    You need to check with the local zoning to make sure you aren't in an airport or air flight path/zone. Usually the limit is nothing more than 90+ but could be different. At a height above 50 feet many towns will make you get a special use permit or request an exemption.
    @GigCityPlanner

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Yup, I referenced the NREL maps in the OP. Also, in the OP is the assumption that all zoning/setback requirements and approvals are granted, which also pertains to airport regs and height restrictions (at least around here).

    Let me clarify. My inquiry is not about a personal turbine purchase. When we assist communities on developing small wind ordinances, we get great questions. Over the past six months, the questions have become more sophisticated. Because the NREL maps have an 80-meter resolution, they lack the detail that a resident would need to make an informed site specific decision. The maps are estimates. To make the informed decision, the residents know they can get more data. Therefore, they have two likely possible options:

    1. Retain an engineer to conduct a feasibility study. The consultant would use data based on simulations and the NREL wind maps. The only site specifc information this consultant would consider includes topography, trees, and other obstructions in the vicinity. It will take about a month for the consultant to provide the resident with a final report. This option is relatively cheap, with a quick turnaround.

    2. Retain an engineer to install an anemometer. Data collected would reflect daily and seasonal variations in wind velocity. It will take about 12 months for the consultant to report back to the resident on the local wind resource, and the information will be very detailed. This is a higher cost option, takes longer, but provides a very clear picture of the local wind resource.

    Since so many communities are now adopting small wind turbine ordinances, I thought this would be a good question to ponder. If there isn't a local wind resource that makes financial sense for the homeowner (or local business), what is the liklihood that your residents/businesses will actually install small wind turbines?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    To answer your original question, I would have to assume that I am the property owner and not the government. If I were the government, I wouldn't care what the answer is. All I would care about are setbacks, height restrictions, and public safety. It's not the government's role to decide whether or not an investment is worthwhile, only that it conforms to local regulations and won't harm others.

    As the property owner, I would be much more cautious if I were the first one putting up a wind turbine. I would probably want that 12 month data to make sure I wasn't setting myself up to fail because of seasonal wind variations. If I were not the first, and neighbors had already done the heavy lifting, I would take the simpler and cheaper route.

    Now, if the local government decided to fund the construction of a series of anemometers in strategic locations to test local wind resources, that would be nice for its citizens. But that's only worthwhile if there are a lot of citizens interested in setting up turbines.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JimPlans View post
    To answer your original question, I would have to assume that I am the property owner and not the government. If I were the government, I wouldn't care what the answer is. All I would care about are setbacks, height restrictions, and public safety. It's not the government's role to decide whether or not an investment is worthwhile, only that it conforms to local regulations and won't harm others.

    As the property owner, I would be much more cautious if I were the first one putting up a wind turbine. I would probably want that 12 month data to make sure I wasn't setting myself up to fail because of seasonal wind variations. If I were not the first, and neighbors had already done the heavy lifting, I would take the simpler and cheaper route.

    Now, if the local government decided to fund the construction of a series of anemometers in strategic locations to test local wind resources, that would be nice for its citizens. But that's only worthwhile if there are a lot of citizens interested in setting up turbines.
    Yes, exactly.

    But the issue is twofold: turbulent flow at only 70 ft AGL, and you can choose to go on a coarse grid resolution or hire someone to do a site assessment. If a halfway intelligent land owner is going to fork over 4 figures (or more) for a turbine setup, you want to ensure a decent ROI and so you need to solve both the turbulent flow and the total wind resource. There are some places that are no-brainers and others that need analysis. Not sure how one size fits all works here.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Interesting question in the OP.

    What about the folks that sell turbines?

    Are they providing any assistance (i.e., marketing research for new customers) to expand their sales?

    The American Wind Energy Associations' "Permitting Small Wind Turbines: A Handbook - Learning from the California Experience" vacillates between whether it "feels" windy enough to a "your guess may not be good enough" (i.e., erect anemometer) approach.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    We're getting ready to pass a wind turbine ordinance...this is timely!

    Our ordinance allows for "test" turbines to be installed for up to a year to "test" the effectiveness of the turbine. The review process is slightly less cumbersome, but there is a letter of credit required and the turbine must come down on day x or else.....

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    Side note: Even though the discussion is primarily about small wind turbines, I must caution that if any jurisdiction is in the process of developing an ordinance and you have a military installation and/or FAA airport or government agency that has radar systems within 30 miles, it is a good idea to get them involved early on. The reason for involving them is that wind turbines can clutter the radar systems and cause long-term problems that may have safety consequences.

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