Is Wind Right for You?
By Anne Stanton 7/20/09
If heavy winds routinely bounce your childrens toys around the yard, your
home is probably a good candidate for wind power.
But how do you know for sure? And if you do get a wind turbine, should you
choose between a horizontal axis or a vertical axis wind turbine like the
new Windspire built in Manistee?
Most of us feel that if you put a well-designed horizontal axis turbine
in the same place as the Mariah Windspire, the horizontal will pay for
itself quicker, said Mike Bergey, owner of the 30-year-old Bergey
That said, a lot of people like the looks of the vertical axis more than
the propeller type, and theres some value to that. If you like the looks
of something youre willing to pay more.
The reason, he explained, is wind physics. If you have twice the wind
speed (which is higher at 100 feet in the air), you get eight times the
Allan OShea, who sells the Mariah Windspire, said the vertical axis wind
turbine provides one more choice for people who dont necessarily want guy
cables in their backyards to support a 120-foot tower.
To crunch the numbers on your payback, youll need to know the average
wind speed of your home. There are a number of anemometers available to
record average wind speed for a few hundred dollars, including Davis,
RainWise and Maximum. They are typically installed on an existing
structure-house or flagpole at 15 to 20 feet above ground, said Tom Young,
president of R.M. Young Company, which produces meteorological equipment.
For the most accurate assessment, measure wind in all four seasons, he
But what about wind measurements at 100 feet or higher?
Young said that existing maps of Michigan show wind speed is significantly
stronger at 100 plus feet, but an actual measurement at a specific site
would cost thousands of dollars.
Which wind turbine provides the most power for the money?
In terms of comparative power and reliability of turbines, Home Power
published data of horizontal turbines in its June/July 2009 issue. But it
excluded data on vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs).
No matter which turbine you choose, youll get a 30 percent tax credit
with no cap.
If youre a newbie to all this, you might find it frustrating to get a
handle of comparative turbine power performance. Thats because theres a
lack of established standards in the industry.
Mike Bergey hopes to change all that. He is the chair of a Wind Energy
Association committee, which is in the final stages of creating new
certification standards. It will help wind shoppers directly compare the
performance potential of a small wind turbine, similar to the gas mileage
standard required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Theres nothing like that right now, Bergey said. Its extremely
difficult comparing apples to apples of small wind turbines. Manufacturers
can pick any rated wind speed they want. Well try to level that playing
field and empower consumers.
Big Wind is Better
Wind energy is a complex topic, but one fact is clear. Commercial wind
turbines provide far cheaper energy than home-sized turbines. Because of
the physics of wind and power, the amount of electricity generated
increases exponentially with turbine size and wind speed.
I just looked at a one kilowatt system that cost $15,000, then a 10
kilowatt system, that was $45, 000 installed. It cost three times more,
but it has the potential capacity to make 10 times more electricity, said
Jim Barnes of Eco-Building Products in Traverse City.
With wind generators, the bigger you go, the more sense they make. When
they produce power for municipalities and big utilities, that in my
opinion is the way to go. They start paying for themselves and become
reasonably priced. When you have great winds, theyre a great fuel source
of power, but the system you are putting up to harvest that wind has its
limitations of how much power it can produce. My thoughts are, the bigger,
There are other discomfiting realities. Manufacturing wind turbines takes
fossil fuel, and so does transporting them. Small wind power units are
mostly used in rural areas, a lifestyle which tends to require big car
trips into town, at least if thats where you work. Environmentalists say
clustered communities, powered by commercial wind turbines, make the most
sense in the long run.
The Leelanau Enterprise recently reported that parts of northwestern
Michigan, including almost all of Leelanau County, are the second windiest
in the state and ideal for a commercial wind farm, based on findings by
the states new Wind Energy Resource Zone Board.
But many county residents, along with the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
superintendent, oppose the prospect of commercial towers, believing they
would mar the countys beauty and potentially harm resources. They would,
however, go along with small residential towers, the article reported.
Meanwhile, Marty Lagina, who made his fortune in oil and gas, has erected
two of the most powerful wind turbines in the country in the town of
McBain, near Cadillac. He plans to put up seven more 2.5 megawatt
turbines before winter sets in. Each turbine will provide energy to 1,000
homes. The McBain turbines went up with no controversy, said an employee
of Heritage Sustainable Energy.
The wind industry, both large and small, is going through a renaissance,
and it is exciting and real, said OShea, who has sold renewable energy
products for decades. It is time to tear down the fences and not build
The public has until 3 p.m., August 4 to make online comments on the Wind
Energy Resource Zone report. Go to