WWJ 950 Detroit March 31, 2009 www.wwj.com
Waterford Township-based Oak Electric Service Inc. said Tuesday it had formed a new Green Division for sales and installation of small commercial and residential wind turbines.
“We are seeing major changes taking place for those of us that operate businesses in the energy field," said Gary Pipia, a third generation electrical contractor and owner of Oak Electric. "The new renewable 'green initiatives' like wind and solar are adding a different type of power generating alternative for businesses and homeowners, where the benefits are not a total replacement for existing electrical sources … but really a means of helping to reduce electrical usage, carbon footprint and ultimately the cost from traditional energy providers. In some cases, a system may have the ability to give back electricity to the power grid by relaying generated power not being used with the added benefit of a 'buy back' program from the electric utility.”
Pipia said the company began investigating small wind turbine systems early in 2008, defining small as rated for capacities of 100 kilowatts or less. Systems typicallyk include the turbine and blades, tower, inverter, wiring and foundation.
Pipia said the company's research showed Michigan is one of only five states with the 'buy back' or Net Metering programs.
"We believe that this type of policy encourages customer-sited generators to generate renewable energy in excess of personal needs," Pipia said. "Our investigation also revealed that the single most effective driver for the industry continues to be the financial incentive programs offered by the state, and grid-connected, residential systems in the 1-10kW range constitute the fastest growing market segment.”
The company installed its first residential small wind turbine in the summer of 2008 at the home of Bert and Lynn Klein in Howell, an energy-conscious couple who had already installed a geothermal heating and cooling system. The company installed a 3.7-kilowatt Skystream wind turbine on a 30-foot pole on a hill on the property.
The company also installed a five-kilowatt system at the home of Peter B. Kaufman in Manchester that, combined with a four-kilowatt solar array, should provide most of that homes energy needs. Kaufman also has a geothermal heating and cooling system. His solar unit is larger -- a ReDriven unit on an 80-foot tower with blades 18 feet long.
Oak is now an exclusive dealer in Michigan for ReDriven Power Inc. and Swift, a Grand Rapids-based manufacturer of wind turbines that can be mounted and installed on the rooftops of structures.
Pipia said Oak will soon have its own Skystream 3.7-kilowatt wind turbine on a 30-foot pole at its central office in Waterford.
"This will allow us to generate our own useful data with respect to operating parameters and realistically determine how much electrical energy a small system like this in our area can return to the power grid," Pipia said.
Federal law now offers a 30 percent tax credit on small wind turbine systems with no maximum credit. Solar and wind units also qualify for a 100 percent local property tax exemption thanks to state law.
Installation costs vary with local zoning, permitting and utility interconnection costs but Pipia said a small wind turbine can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 installed, depending on turbine size, application and service agreement from the manufacturer. In the end, wind speed will be a major determining factor for the investment and the ROI. Most small wind turbines need at least 8 mph of wind speed to operate. Larger units with longer blades can operate with as low as 3.5 mph wind. And, according to the American Wind Energy Association a 10 percent increase in wind speed results in a 33 percent increase in available power.
Most turbines will produce a small portion of a home or businesses usage. For example, a typical home uses approximately 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year or about 830 kWh per month. Depending on the average wind speed in the area, a wind turbine rated in the 5 to 15 kW range would be required to make a significant contribution to an 830 kWh per month demand. Looking at another example, a 1.5 kW wind turbine will meet the needs of a home requiring 300 kWh per month in a location with a 14 mph annual average wind speed. The average wind speed in Southeast Michigan is 11-12 mph at 98 feet and obviously less the lower you go.
Oak Electric also provides stand-by generator installations for industrial, commercial and residential markets.
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