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Onsite Wind Power May Cut Energy Costs if You Can Cut the Red Tape

If you want affordable energy, sometimes you just need to generate it yourself. But, as quickly as plants see the potential economic benefit of installing their own renewable energy supplies, they become disillusioned almost as fast by the red tape of government incentives and zoning requirements.

Household product manufacturer SC Johnson (SCJ, www.scjohnson.com), for example, met strong local opposition when it announced its desire to erect three 400-ft-tall wind turbines at its Waxdale manufacturing facility in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin., as part of its ongoing commitment to provide renewable energy for the plant. The facility is its largest global manufacturing plant and covers the area of 36 football fields. Nearby residents expressed concerns about the potential noise, sun flicker, impact on property values, and endangerment of wildlife.

“Nearly 40% of our company’s worldwide electricity comes from renewable energy,” says Fisk Johnson, SCJ chairman and CEO. “Installing wind turbines at Waxdale is one of the many ways we are working to further reduce our environmental footprint.”

After escorting local officials to a wind farm in nearby Fond du Lac County, the company demonstrated wind turbine noise levels to quell any uncertainties about the volume. Measurements were about 20 decibels lower than the sound of a passing car on the paved road, and SCJ offered to install landscaping at the facility to make the wind turbines more aesthetically pleasing. All of this spurred approval of a conditional-use permit by the local board, allowing the manufacturer to go ahead with its plans to produce 8-10 million kWh, or 15% of its energy needs, with wind power. The company plans to generate 100% of its own energy at the facility, with 60% of that coming from renewable energy sources, including two co-generation plants, one of which creates renewable energy from landfill gases.

Alternative energy comes in many varieties — from biomass, landfill gas, and geothermal to solar, wind, and hydropower — but wind energy dominates not only the headlines and the skylines, but the federal grants for renewable energy projects (Figure 1). Wind and small-wind projects accounted for 85% of the U.S. Department of Treasury Section 1603 tax grants in 2009 and 2010.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Eighty-five percent of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section 1603 tax grants were awarded to wind and small-wind projects in 2009 and 2010. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Wind turbines, of course, are capable of harnessing kinetic energy, turning it into mechanical energy and transforming that into electricity. The capital expenditure for wind turbines sometimes can deter the investment, but government incentives and grants can make that initial cost much more attractive. Plant managers or maintenance managers are typically the individuals who are best equipped to obtain that funding, but most don’t know where to begin.

The two most common federal incentives are the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which repealed the dollar cap on the small wind investment tax credit (ITC), enabling businesses to claim a 30% ITC for property with turbines used to generate its own power, and the Section 1603 tax grant program, which was extended in December. Add the various state and local incentives and grant programs, and you’ve got an overwhelming number of options to investigate, so where’s the best place to start?

Where to turn

Most plant managers have a relationship with either a local electrical contractor or electrical distributor for lighting, motors, or electrical components, explains Jeff Ehlers, president of Renewegy (www.renewegy.com). “I suggest starting with a local person that you trust and ask for that person’s guidance on wind power,” he suggests. “Most likely they have either been involved with a small wind project or know someone who has. There’s a lot of information on the Internet regarding small wind; however, it’s quite difficult to decipher. Like with any purchase, check references before you engage to be sure you have a good partner. Once you’ve decided who you might work with, ask for help in understanding wind power and the associated incentives.”

In 2011, Renewegy built a wind energy system that was tipped up at the North American headquarters of Wago (www.wago.us) in Germantown, Wisconsin. It included a 100-ft-tall, 32-ft-diameter windmill using portable hydraulics to raise and lower the unit in around 20 minutes (Figure 2). This will help to alleviate a considerable amount of the annual maintenance costs, which typically run about 5% of the installation cost. It’s the VP-20 wind turbine’s hydraulic tip-up capability, along with the internal CANbus communication, which is converted to Ethernet for remote monitoring, that differentiate it from other systems.

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