The idea behind wind power seems simple enough: Install a residential-sized turbine on a house and the owner receives clean, renewable energy when the wind blows hard enough. Pretty straightforward stuff.
“With this simple and increasingly popular technology, individuals can generate their own power and cut their energy bills while helping to protect the environment,” says the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a Washington, D.C.–based group that advocates for wind power. “Unlike utility-scale turbines, small turbines can be suitable for use on properties as small as one acre of land in most areas of the country.”
In a typical residential application, the wind turbine is connected to the home and the grid, powering the home and sending the excess power back to the utility company, says the NAHB Research Center in Upper Marlboro, Md. Through net metering, many utilities credit the homeowner’s account for the turbine-produced power that is fed back to the grid, the group adds.
Who can argue with a system that has those benefits? Plus, when you consider that state and federal rebates and tax credits lower the cost of wind power, the technology should be an easy call.
But it’s not.
Consumer Reports wrote in 2011 that early tests of one wind turbine the organization was monitoring suggested a homeowner “could save far less than the manufacturer claims—and wait decades for your investment to pay for itself.” While the Consumer Reports study is only about one product, it raises a real concern. And there are other issues that question whether wind power could work in a typical subdivision.
Cost is one of the major concerns. Even though tax incentives lower the cost of installing a wind power system, it is still pricey and complicated. AWEA estimates that a residential system large enough to power an entire house “costs, on average, $30,000, but the price can range from $10,000 to $70,000 depending on system size, height, and installation expenses.” The payback period varies widely, too, from six years to 30 years.
Wind turbines work best when they are set high, making them better suited for remote or low-density areas. “Developments that have adopted restrictive covenants may not allow wind turbines to be erected” at all, the NAHB Research Center says.
And there are other important considerations and issues. For example, it’s imperative that builders do an analysis of how much power a unit will actually generate and pay attention to structural support if the turbine will be mounted on the roof.
Perhaps the two most important factors in the decision are figuring out the average wind speed in the proposed installation area and the possible financial rewards.
Many zip codes do not have enough wind to power a unit. Says the NAHB Research Center, “As a rule of thumb, wind power systems tend to be cost effective in areas in which the average wind speed is 10 mph or greater and utility costs are more than $0.10 per kWh.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.