I just had a nice little chat with the CEO of a wind power company that I think most of our readers would be a fan of. The company, OwnEnergy, is focused on “community wind power projects” in the U.S.
Community wind is sort of a nebulous term — as a former sociologist and city planner, I know that “community” can be used in about 10,000 different ways — but one thing it clearly implies in this context is that local community members will have more stake in a project.
Of course, wind power projects bring many, many benefits to a local community. They bring jobs, cleaner electricity (if they are replacing or being installed instead of coal or natural gas power plants), more tax revenue, and a boost to the local economy. Additionally, in many locations, wind power is now cheaper than or cost competitive with other new electricity options (not even taking health and environmental costs into account).
Nonetheless, almost any new development can run into NIMBYISM these days, and wind power is no exception. Wind power projects across the country, and the world, get stopped in their tracks simply because some local residents (only needs to be a few in some cases) don’t like how they look or are concerned (unrealistically so, in most cases) with the noise that would be created by the wind turbines. I like this graphic below for a little perspective on how much ‘noise’ a wind turbine makes (more info at the link above).
Getting back to the topic of today — community wind power — the thing about it that gives it an upper hand is that it gives locals even more personal benefit opportunities from a wind project, and more easily topples or skirts local NIMBY opposition to wind power. As OwnEnergy CEO Jake Susman noted to me, instead of NIMBY, you get YIMBY (Yes, in my back yard!).
However, despite community wind’s benefits, and even its demand, it hasn’t “blown up” in the U.S. yet (note that community ownership models are key to wind-leading Denmark’s success in this arena). Susman, recognizing this, dove into this field in recent years. The OwnEnergy website notes that Susman invested his family savings into this model and started the company in 2007 to propel community wind forward in the U.S.
There were a number of interesting things Jake and I just discussed in our talk, and I learned a bit more about community wind’s position in the U.S., but I’ll just focus on a few of those right now to wrap up.
First of all, regarding OwnEnergy, perhaps the most notable news is that the company intends to complete two notable projects this year:
- The Patton Wind Farm, which I mentioned in a wind energy project roundup a couple months ago, is going up now and should be completed by the end of 2012. It’s a 30-MW wind project and OwnEnergy has been developing it with its local landowner partner from its inception. (Actually, all OwnEnergy projects are developed with at least one local equity partner from Day 1, Jake noted.) “As a Community Wind project, with local ownership of the farm, it enjoys unprecedented local support and will provide incremental economic development for the region,” OwnEnergy wrote back in December.
- The Blackwell Wind Farm, which Jake just told me a bit about, is a 60-MW Oklahoma wind farm with 3 local partners (again, equity owners from Day 1) who have been living on the land there for 4 generations, over 100 years. “NextEra Energy Resources will acquire, construct and operate the Blackwell Wind Farm,” the website states, and Jake noted on our call. “The clean, renewable energy produced by the wind farm will be sold under a long term contract to Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E). OG&E will use the output from the project to supply Oklahoma State University with clean energy.” This project is also expected to be complete by the end of 2012.
Next, on the topic community wind, in general, Jake mentioned a few interesting points:
- Community wind power accounted for 5.6% of new wind power in the U.S. in 2010. It’s expected to account for a similar percentage in 2011.
- Increasing the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for community wind to projects 20 MW in size (from the 100 kW it’s offered for at the moment) could help the sector out considerably. (More on that policy recommendation from the American Wind Energy Association here.) The Community Wind Act, introduced by Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) last Fall, would make that happen. “The ITC offers investors a 30% credit based upon capital costs,” Stephen Lacey noted back in November. “Because of the complexities of the PTC, it can be difficult for smaller community projects to arrange project financing. This piece of legislation is designed to make financing models simpler and bring in more capital to the sector.”
Community wind power, the Community Wind Act, and OwnEnergy will certainly be on my eye in the months and years to come. Your thoughts?