WASHINGTON – Maryland may be no windswept Kansas, but with gusty mountains to the west and ocean currents to the east, energy officials say state residents could get a substantial amount of power out of thin air.
“It’s a pretty good resource for this part of the country,” said Kevin Rackstraw, the Eastern North America leader for Clipper Windpower, which is planning to build 67 electricity-producing turbines in Garrett County.
But state officials want homeowners to know that corporations are not the only ones who can get in to the windpower game. They said that rural residents might be able to get electricity from the wind blowing through their own back yards.
Getting off the grid is not cheap. James Wassel, president of Appalachian Wind Systems, said buying and installing a small electricity-generating turbine would cost $10,000 to $12,000.
But the payoff is worth it, said Wassel, whose Pennsylvania firm distributes wind turbines and other energy-efficiency technology.
“It would mean no more power outages,” he said. “Electric bills would be reduced or eliminated. Not to mention all the pollution offset from doing it.”
But Mike Bergey, president of Oklahoma-based Bergey Windpower, said it could take Maryland homeowners 20 years to recoup their investment in a wind turbine.
“It’s just not a very good investment for Maryland residents,” he said. “The wind speeds are moderate . . . and there’s no state or federal subsidies.”
Bergey said his company is one of the largest suppliers of small wind turbines in the country, but he could only recall one recent turbine sale in Maryland, and that was at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County.
He said New Jersey has winds similar to Maryland’s, but that he has made some sales there because New Jersey has a rebate program that makes small wind energy production more economical. While Maryland offers an income tax credit on green buildings, it is not likely to apply to rural residents installing turbines.
Nonetheless, if the air is blustery enough — and it could be on mountain ridges and coastal areas — there might be a way to get some of your power from wind.
In September, the Maryland Energy Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy produced a guide to help rural residents determine if a small wind turbine could benefit them.
Susan Shipman, who manages wind energy at the MEA, said it could be helpful for people who want to live off the grid or whose homes are located in especially remote areas.
Wassel said the northwestern part of the state is usually best for small turbines, although there may also be potential in coastal areas. People who live on top of a hill, have a clear view to the west and can see 3 to 5 miles are probably good candidates, he said.
Before committing to a windmill, residents should also check that local zoning allows for tall structures.
Although some wildlife enthusiasts criticize industrial wind farms because of the risk they pose to bats and birds, few people find fault with isolated personal turbines. The smaller turbines are generally safe for wildlife and, like all wind generators, have no toxic emissions.
“I’m a big advocate of small-scale wind turbines,” said Dan Boone, one of the most outspoken activists against large wind farms proposed for Western Maryland. “I think that’s the preferred alternative.”
-30- CNS 12-03-04