As the price of fossil fuels—and the environmental impact associated with them—continues to increase, more homeowners have become interested in generating their own, cleaner electricity. One option is wind power; the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates that a small residential wind turbine can, over the course of its life, prevent the generation of approximately 1.2 tons of smog-forming pollution and 200 tons of global warming pollution from conventional power plants. And depending on its size, a small wind system (which typically generates 5 to 10 kilowatts under optimal conditions) can lower the average home’s electricity costs 50 to 90 percent.
Consider the following factors to determine whether a wind system is right for you:
Siting. Most residential wind systems require an acre or more of open property and a minimum average wind speed of 10 miles per hour (see the related links for state wind speed maps). To get the maximum benefit, the turbine should be sited upwind of any buildings and trees, and the tips of the turbine’s blades should be at least 30 feet higher (at the lowest point of their arc) than any trees or structures within 300 feet. Local zoning ordinances may impose height restrictions on certain structures.
Connecting to the grid (or not).
Cost. While residential wind power systems are about 50 percent less expensive to install (on a per-kilowatt basis) than solar photovoltaic panels, the upfront costs are still high: about $3,000 to $5,000 per kilowatt, including installation, according to AWEA.
To reduce the upfront costs, first make your home as energy-efficient as possible so you can purchase a smaller system, then take advantage of state and utility incentives on renewable energy systems (see the related links). An energy-efficient home will also reduce the amount of time it takes for your wind energy system to pay for itself in the form of lower electricity costs.