DURHAM – Before last year, Mark Weissflog received one or two calls a month from people asking about residential windmills.
“Within the last six months to a year,” said Weissflog, president of Nashua-based alternative energy company KW Management, “we’re almost at one a day.”
Interest in renewable, environment-friendly energy sources had grown in recent years amid growing concerns about global warming. Rising fossil fuel prices have increased that interest exponentially.
Recently enacted state laws will help regulate and fund residential windmills in New Hampshire in a move that could help clear bureaucratic and financial hurdles for the projects.
Signed into law by Gov. John Lynch earlier this month, HB 310 provides building guidelines that municipalities can follow when assessing whether to allow alternative energy projects, while HB 1628, also signed by Lynch, lets the state pay homeowners up to $6,000 for certain renewable energy projects built on their property.
The legislation provides a boost to small, home-based alternative energy projects, like windmills, at a time when interest in them is rising. Few, however, have actually been built.
State Rep. Bill Chase, a Democrat who represents Westmoreland, Surry and Gilsum, sponsored HB 310. He said these alternative energy projects are an important step toward cutting the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, factors in global warming.
He said every bit counts in the quest to become more environmentally friendly.
“If we’re going to solve these issues, we’re not going to do it with one single shot,” he said. “It’s going to require a lot of little projects.”
Never one to think small, Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens has launched a massive campaign in support of the alternative energy and plans to build his own wind farm.
Locally, New Hampshire’s first wind farm is slated for Lempster Mountain.
As for residential windmills, New Hampshire has about a dozen, Weissflog estimated.
He said that although many people are interested in building them, the reality is that the windmills only make sense in the southwestern parts of the state, north toward the Sunapee region, and in the White Mountains – areas with elevated, open space and consistently strong winds.
“That excludes a lot of regions where people think it’s windy, but (the wind is) not consistent enough,” Weissflog said. “People are currently looking for alternatives, and they’re really grasping at straws sometimes.”
Weissflog said a worthwhile windmill needs average winds of at least 12 mph. The turbine should be positioned about 30 feet above the highest object, usually a tree, within a 300 foot radius.
That means a windmill in New Hampshire generally would have to be 100 to 120 feet tall and could produce about 8,000 to 14,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per, Weisflogg said.
Residential wind energy projects are extremely site specific, Weissflog said, and the height, amount of electricity produced and cost can vary widely.
In general though, a 100- to 120-foot residential wind turbine would cost about $60,000 to $70,000 to construct, Weissflog said.
“You’re pre-purchasing about 20 to 25 years of electricity,” he said. “You’re hedging against future cost increases is what you’re doing.”
The height of the projects can cause problems for residents looking to build on their property, which is where HB 310 comes in.
A group University of New Hampshire political science students, led by alumna Laura Carpenter, conceived the legislation as part of a class project after Carpenter and her family had trouble installing their own windmill because officials applied local building codes that didn’t take into account requirements of the new technology.
Chase, the bill’s sponsor, said many municipalities limit the height of buildings to 35 to 40 feet, to enable firefighters to battle blazes. A windmill of such limited height would be useless in most cases though, so HB 310 gives towns guidelines they can follow for the projects, he said.
“Not many other states have legislation or statutes that relate to small wind energy systems,” he said, noting that New Hampshire borrowed much of its legal language from California’s law.
To view HB 310, visit: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2008/HB0310.html.
To view HB 1628, visit: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2008/HB1628.html.
By Clynton Namuo
New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent
27 July 2008
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