I attended the AWEA WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition in Chicago yesterday, where a variety of companies gather each year to collaborate and explore industry opportunities. Although many trends were discussed, one notion that came up was the unique opportunity for community wind projects to thrive in the current economic climate.
From schools to tribal reservations to corporate campuses, community wind is a growing sector in the wind energy industry that involves local involvement and ownership. Although projects are often of smaller scale than investor-owned or third-party industrial wind farms, community wind projects possess qualities that are uniquely suited for the renewable energy market for 2013.
As Ray Henger, Chief Financial Officer of OwnEnergy, Inc. said, community wind projects can be developed with greater velocity. They typically use existing transmission infrastructure, thus not requiring major infrastructure upgrades. Using a local partnership model helps boost community support and reduces “not in my backyard” mentality from local stakeholders.
“There’s nothing better than seeing the benefits of the project flow to the people that live with it,” says Michael Rucker, Chief Financial Officer of Juwi Wind. Community wind benefits include greater economic diversity, job creation, tax generation, and income to landowners. Community support for a given project can make a tangible difference for wind energy developers – obtaining permits more quickly and easily for popular projects.
“We have excellent access to quality, cutting edge turbine equipment,” says Wes Slaymaker, president of WES Engineering Inc, a company that advanced three community wind projects in 2012. “Unlike a few years ago, turbine manufacturers and contractors now are eager to work on community-based wind farms.” The supply bottlenecks that recently plagued the industry are not currently an obstacle.
The speed of wind farm development is particularly important for projects that seek to take advantage of the one year extension of the production tax credit. This requires that the project reach the construction phase during 2013, a feat that is difficult for many large or unpopular projects.
“I commend all the business and community leaders that are helping advance wind energy development,” says Slaymaker. “There is an excellent opportunity right now for companies, schools, and municipalities to control their energy costs, and show leadership in reducing their carbon footprint.”
[Image credit: Wes Slaymaker]