Three years ago, Albert and Dena Sousa spent about $30,000 to install two vertical axis wind turbines at their Spanish Springs home after they were told the technology would cut their power bill in half.
The retired couple from California thought the turbines, produced by former Reno-based company Mariah Power, would generate enough electricity to pay for themselves in five years after a $7,000 rebate from NV Energy.
Today, the Sousas say the turbines have required several repairs, including a mechanical malfunction that’s stopped one turbine from spinning. Meanwhile, the windmills have generated only about 365 kilowatt hours of power over three years – a fraction of the energy they were hoping to generate – meaning there will be no payoff in their lifetimes.
“So, I’m out $23,000, and all they are is a yard decoration,” Albert Sousa said on Wednesday while standing beneath the 30-foot spires next to a backyard chicken coop. “They’re no good at all.”
Advocates of small-scale wind energy production say stories like the Sousas’ experience at their high-desert home highlight the challenge early adopters face when investing in a nascent industry.
That includes sorting through unsubstantiated claims made by some manufacturers of wind turbines meant for backyards or city parks as well as maintaining a realistic set of expectations for the technology.
NV Energy’s windmill incentive program has awarded $19.5 million in rebates to 140 windmill projects in Nevada since 2008. The city of Reno got $167,800 in rebates after it installed nine windmills on city-owned property two years ago using federal stimulus grant money.
The NV Energy rebate program for windmills, which is funded by NV Energy rate payers, was put on hold this summer while state regulators consider new standards for the rebates, which are expected to restart later this year.
Under the new rules, applicants will need to demonstrate a potential windmill project area has an average annual wind speed of 10 mph. In other words – no wind, no rebate.
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