Best Practice Considerations for Small Wind Programs
By MICk SAgrIllo
mick Sagrillo is a small
educator and advocate,
and served as the small
wind technology lead
for Wisconsin’s Focus on
energy for seven years.
Program administrators should
award grants based on the projected annual energy output,
not on nameplate capacity of
the turbine. This assures proper
siting and design.
States establish public benefits programs to fund renewable energy initiatives. The requirements vary broadly from state to state, and sometimes by region
or utility district within a state. The programs periodically
come up for reconsideration or redesign, which gives us a
chance to adopt best practices. Here are some suggestions
regarding what works best and what needs work, based on
my seven years as technology lead for a renewable energy
public benefits program — and on a lot of input from
small wind installers around the country.
Pick a program and stick with it. It takes a long
time to research a small wind system, apply for the
grant, secure the permits, purchase equipment, take
delivery and finally get it installed and commissioned. Annual program changes, unless they address
specific problems in the marketplace, make for further delays and often seem schizophrenic. Installer
feedback stressed that consistency is far better than
“new and improved” grant programs.
Design the program to be simple and straightforward for grant applicants and installers, not for the
convenience of the program administrator. But maintain programmatic controls to drive quality installations.
Require copies of documents submitted to the
utility or building department, rather than new forms
or requirements. If the utility requires a one-line
electrical diagram with specific requirements, don’t
ask for a slightly different diagram that will merely
double the installer’s workload without adding useful
Award grants based on the wind-site assessment projected annual energy output, not on the
capacity of the system. Fund projects based on
estimated electricity generation, not on equipment
cost. This is not as easy as granting based on nameplate capacity, but it eliminates the problems created when a manufacturer fudges a turbine rating,
or re-rates the system so that it qualifies for a higher
grant. Besides, projected electricity production will
induce owners with poor sites to select themselves
out of the gene pool when they realize how little
grant money they will get.
The wind-site assessment is one of the best services a program can offer. A site assessment is akin
to a prepurchase house inspection. The trained site
assessor (a local business, not a program administrator)
evaluates the site and wind-resource potential and provides the information the buyer needs to make an enlightened decision regarding its investment value. Whether or
40 May 2012 SOLAR TODAY solartoday.org
Copyright © 2012 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
not they later bought a wind system, most people surveyed
rated the site assessment, which is partially paid for by the
program, as the best money they’d spent. And once again,
requiring a site assessment screens out the poor sites and
shifts the “teaching load” from the program administrator
to the site assessor.