BANGOR TOWNSHIP – Is there enough wind and sun in Bay County to make an investment into turbines and solar panels worth it?
A former senior scientist for Dow Corning Corp. says no; at least not yet.
“I think wind and sun are great resources and we should use them, but we should go into this with our eyes wide open,” said Jerome Klosowski, a member of the Bangor Township Green Team, a group of ecologically-minded residents working to teach area residents how to conserve energy and save money.
Klosowski is the lead wind and solar researcher for the Green Team. He says his studies show that spending money to install green energy practices like wind turbines and solar panels won’t have an immediate payoff for residents.
“Don’t expect to make money; don’t even expect to eliminate your bills. If you put in windmills or solar panels, you’re doing it for other reasons, good reasons, but not to save money,” he said.
Klosowski said his analysis of straight-line wind speeds show most homes get about a third of the wind necessary for a “reasonable” payback time on the investment.
According to wind readings taken at Delta College, the region averages wind speeds of 4.7 mph. Klosowski said that most manufacturers recommend wind speeds of at least 12 mph to make their products effective.
Glenn Fonzi, owner of Affordable Green Energy in Essexville, said Klosowski’s numbers aren’t exactly spot on.
“I’d have to argue with that,” he said. “Every unit is different, but it only takes 4 or 5 mph to get these things going.
“If you’re in a housing addition, you might not get enough wind to make this worth your while, but if you live on the river or the bay or in a farming area with no trees, I would bet you’re getting closer to 9 to 11 mph winds.”
Fonzi noted that his company has installed roughly 20 wind turbines at homes across the state, and his team gets their own anemometer readings to ensure the technology they install will work.
“I won’t put them up if they won’t get enough wind,” he said. “Nobody wants you to put one up and it never spins.”
Payback periods are also the sticking point for solar, Klosowski said.
His research shows that cloudy days put a damper on solar energy’s payback period; Klosowski said that national weather data shows Bay County has a mere 68 days of sunny weather per year.
“The manufacturers will tell you that solar panels will still work on cloudy days, and it’s true, but at what rate?” he said. “On cloudy days, you only produce 5 percent of what you would on a sunny day. Partially cloudy days, you might get 30 or 40 percent of what you would on a sunny day.
“Payback time is directly related to the cost of the equipment. I don’t care if you use a solar shingle, which looks really nice, or another panel – until the costs come down, the payback time just doesn’t make sense.”
He said with current technology and the area’s climate, payback for the initial investment in either wind or solar would take decades.
“If you put in the equipment, you’re not going to get a payback for 20, 30, 40 years if you see one at all,” he said.
Prices for Dow Chemical Co.’s Powerhouse solar shingles have not been released, although officials have said total system cost is lower than a traditional solar panel configuration.
Kate Nigro, spokeswoman for Dow Solar, said the payback period varies from product to product, but people shouldn’t let the cloudy days scare them away from solar.
“Solar is very viable here in Michigan,” she said. “You can look at a country like Germany, which gets less sunlight than us annually, but they are the No. 1 user of residential solar in the world.”
Fonzi added that if customers were paying full price for their equipment, Klosowski’s estimated payback time might apply, but a 30-percent tax credit pushes wind and solar back into the reasonable range.
“The only thing that makes these things worthwhile right now is the 30-percent tax credit,” he said. “For a typical residential system, say a 5 kilowatt wind turbine on a 40-foot tower, it will cost around $23,000. The owner will get back $7,500 and will probably pay back their investment in the first seven to 10 years.”
Klosowoski said he knows his wind and solar reports, which are available at Bangor Township Hall, 180 State Park Drive, will be unpopular.
“I don’t want to discourage people from using wind or solar,” he said. “But the costs are not something we should try to hide. I think that with the research we’re doing – if the government continues to help sponsor the research – the cost per kilowatt-hour will drop.
“When it gets cut in half, the payback will be reasonable for the average person and I don’t think that is far away.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding