Las Vegas Sun

January 28, 2015

Currently: 50° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account


NV Energy windmill program generates rebates, little electricity

Wind Turbines

A Skystream wind turbine. Launch slideshow »

New LED and Wind Turbine facility dedicated

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, center, arrives with Kai Huang, 2nd left, deputy mayor of Shenyang, China, Jinxiang Lu, 2nd right, chairman/CEO of A-Power, and Tom Conway, right, international vice president of the United Steelworkers union, for the dedication of a new A-Power Energy Generation Systems manufacturing facility in Henderson Tuesday, October 12, 2010. A translator is at far left. The company, based in China, will produce wind turbines and LED lighting. Launch slideshow »

A year ago, a Reno clean energy businessman warned the Public Utilities Commission that if it didn’t set a few standards for NV Energy’s wind rebate program, its customers could end up footing the bill for turbines that rarely produce electricity.

One reason behind his concern: To be eligible for rebates, customers didn’t need to prove that the wind actually blows enough to justify installing a turbine on their property.

“This could allow unscrupulous developers to sell turbines to unsuspecting customers who will not generate electricity from an installed turbine because there is no wind to power the turbine,” Clean Energy Center managing member Rich Hamilton told the PUC last May. “This problem is especially vexing because ratepayer money could be contributing to the cost of such turbines, which could give the Wind Generations program and the wind industry a black eye.”

The PUC agreed that such a standard would be a good idea but sided with NV Energy’s position that it was too early to move forward with it just yet.

A year later, however, Hamilton’s warning appears to have been spot on.

The electricity produced by NV Energy’s $46 million wind rebate program has fallen far short of expectations.

In a startling example, the city of Reno’s wind turbines — for which the city received more than $150,000 in rate-payer funded rebates — produced dramatically less electricity than the manufacturers of its turbines promised.

“These manufacturers, when they gave us the turbines, they said they were designed to be mounted on a parapet at this height, and that’s what we did,” said Jason Geddes, who runs the city of Reno’s renewable energy program. “But when we started getting actual wind flow patterns, we realized their claims were wrong.”

Click to enlarge photo

Jinxiang Lu, left, Chairman/CEO of A-Power, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, center, and Kai Huang, deputy mayor of Shenyang, China, stand during the dedication of a new A-Power Energy Generation Systems manufacturing facility in Henderson Tuesday, October 12, 2010. The company, based in China, will produce wind turbines and LED lighting.

As first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, one turbine that cost the city $21,000 to install saved the city $4 on its energy bill. Overall, $416,000 worth of turbines have netted the city $2,800 in energy savings.

Not all of the city’s turbines performed so poorly. But on average, the small wind turbines installed statewide through NV Energy’s program have yielded disappointing results.

“There is a lot of difference in some of the generators relative to what the (manufacturers) claim,” said John Hargrove, who manages NV Energy’s Renewable Generations program. “A generator can claim to put out 100 kilowatt hours, but that’s based on an assumption that there’s a certain amount of wind. If you don’t have the wind, you won’t have the output.”

That’s exactly why Hamilton pleaded with the PUC to impose a requirement that customers first prove their wind resource before winning a rebate.

“I’m terribly worried about the future of the program,” said Hamilton, whose company does solar and wind projects. “We really, really feel strongly about this. I’m a rate-payer. And if the rate-payers are paying for this, the rate-payer should be getting the most bang for their buck.”

Hamilton also believes equipment standards should be in place to minimize faulty turbines, some of which have fallen apart.

That’s happened both in Reno and in rural Nevada. Geddes said one of his turbines that was rated to 110 mph fell apart in a 105-mph gust.

A more catastrophic failure occurred on a farm in rural Nevada, when a large turbine spun apart only days after it was installed. No one was injured, largely because it was in a remote locale.

“It was very spectacular,” said Matt Newberry, who runs NV Energy’s wind program. “It was only up for a matter of days. We’re relieved we haven’t had any more of those.”

Unlike the solar industry, which has figured out how to correctly install productive solar generators on rooftops and in parking lots across the state, the wind industry in Nevada is still in its infancy.

So far, statewide, about 150 turbines have been installed through a rebate program created by the 2007 Legislature.

Under the demonstration programs, cities, schools, businesses and homeowners are eligible for a rebate up to the full cost of the turbine depending on a variety of factors including the system’s wattage.

The vast majority of the projects are in Northern and rural Nevada. Most of the cost of the program is born by rate-payers of Sierra Pacific, as NV Energy’s Northern Nevada sister company is known, and not the utility’s Southern Nevada customers.

The PUC is again considering the requirements advocated by Hamilton — requirements that will govern the program statewide.

Power company officials first worried stringent requirements could strangle the budding industry. But after a year of experimenting with the program, they appear on board with both resource and equipment standards.

Click to enlarge photo

Searchlight resident George Beyer listens while sitting next to a photo of a wind turbine during a Searchlight Town Hall Meeting at the Searchlight Community Center about a proposed wind energy project Thursday, June 25, 2009.

“I think it’s a really smart evolution of the program,” Newberry said. “When it was instituted, nobody really knew much about wind in the state. The market itself, even the Legislature, labeled it as a demonstration program.

“But we want to make sure customers are getting good things. We don’t want to see people install them in places where there’s not good wind.”

Hargrove declared the demonstration successful, largely because of how much the company has learned about small wind projects. He noted the wind program doesn’t make much sense in Nevada’s urban centers.

“Rather than putting a little one in the backyard of a home, we’re focusing on much larger projects that go out on a farm,” he said. “While some early projects are not producing great results, it’s not because wind doesn’t work. We’re tightening up our standards.”

In its newest filing before the PUC, the company is advocating a 10-mph average wind speed standard to be eligible for the rebate.

Not so fast, Geddes warned.

He noted that models used to calculate average wind speed aren’t reliable. For example, the city’s two most productive wind turbines wouldn’t have been eligible for the rebate because wind studies said the average wind speed was below 10 mph.

The only accurate way to test average wind speed is to install an anemometer and take readings for a year, Geddes said.

Geddes would rather see a performance-based incentive. To get a rate-payer-funded rebate, a customer would have to prove the turbine produced electricity.

Such an incentive was passed by the Legislature last year. But Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill after NV Energy won a last-minute amendment to fund a major transmission line project.

Hamilton countered that investing in an anemometer might not be such a bad idea.

“If you are going to invest tens of thousands in something, it may be worth waiting to do a wind resource assessment,” he said.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 10 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Until they can get the actual unit costs down to something more reasonable that nearly every homeowner CAN afford, the green energy movement will be slow. I was living up north at the end of the application time attempting to get an application in and remember that the costs were too high for the average homeowner, even with a rebate. In many OTHER areas, the wind program has better success because there IS wind on a continual basis near Ely.

    There are You-Tubes out there to built your own at a minimal cost, which might be the way to go given how many are trying to make a profit off of it. The red tape involved with integrating with the existing grid is still an issue to overcome. So maybe more support can be directed to those adventurous homeowners willing to be industrious and build home-grown machines in the meantime. Not much of anything has been done to promote that.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. "it may be worth waiting to do a wind resource assessment". Wind turbine installations without wind profile records of 5 years is guaranteed to fail.

    That "major transmission line project", $800 million that Michael Yachira was going to build - to bring that Wind Turbine energy from Reno to sell it to California and Arizona.

    This type of incompetence from privatized utilities is growing steadily. NVEnergy's business decisions are closer to being Faith based than rational, which is why they are all screwed up.

  3. STOP THE PRESSES! "Private Business Values Profits more than Reality".

    While upfront costs can be high (although this is dropping rapidly as well) there is an actual return on investment with renewable power systems. Contrast that with the fact that consumers will often buy expensive items that rapidly depreciate in value just to look like they are wealthy. From cars to clothes many people never hesitate to throw their money away in primitive displays of egoism but, with clean and green products costs must be justified. Along with buying useless products such people are throwing away our collective future.

  4. If anyone bothers to look -- really look -- at the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, you will find a series of decisions like this one that make no real sense but simply follow along with the business they are supposed to be regulating. They ought to be ashamed.

  5. Jim, I wasn't actually criticizing Star so much as the shallow way most U.S. citizens lead their lives in unthinking consumption.
    You claim all liberals live in a fantasy world. This is very shallow thinking on your part but typical. As liberals with everything we have paid for, including a Toyota Prius C we bought for cash last Saturday, and investments and no credit card debt your comment is the true fantasy. Our solar panels have produced pollution free power since May of 2003 giving us electric bills averaging around ~$20 per month (including ~$11 meter read charges). I'll keep my panels and you can keep your anti-knowledge rants. Enjoy your power bills.
    Oh, and enjoy reading about future oil spills with their devastating environmental and economic consequences. Not to mention the huge burden of pollution from mining, transporting, and burning coal. Buy yourself a house downwind of one those beauties and go right up to the stack and breath might improve your thinking ability.

  6. @ mschaffer

    I am looking at building a house in the near future could you please post a link to the type of systems that you are currently using.


  7. Rethink folks:

    Until tech advances solar and wind are not reliable. Got to have NG or Coal plants to supplement the primitive "green" tech we have now. The environmental cost in rare earth must be counted and it can be huge if useful batteries are concerned.

    Try squirrel cage turbines instead of the huge bladed monsters. Depending on the model they are light weight and run in winds as low as 2 MPH. They can be sited low on a pivoted mount on a back roof out of sight. Most are cheaper than the heavy old style units also. Most of the failures of squirrel cage systems involve tech sited or used in an improper way.

    No wind turbine works when the wind goes away. So a combination solar and wind system will fail to produce on a calm night. Some folks have installed storage for daylight excess production but the cost can be huge. Installation and maintenance can be awkward.

    A couple of gens from now we may see actual canned systems that produce and store enough power and hot water to keep an underground house going all year long.

  8. For Jim Reid, I can appreciate your concern about the folks who would simply buy and install a wind generator power system without doing the homework on wind history for their area, permits, effects on neighbors, etc.; it is just as wasteful to erect a system that doesn't perform. Just for the record, I did my research and where my ranch is, near Ely, and it is a viable location. I would do it here in Las Vegas, but my current location zoning would not allow it. My home in California had an efficient system.

    Ask those around me, including students, and I recycle as much as possible and do my level best to contain consumption. Our school repeatedly gets awarded in our energy audits thanks to the concerted efforts of all there. So to Mark, yeah, green energy is a fabulous investment and I sure wished the PUC would compel these monopoly utilities to be more cooperative. And to Dennis, I agree, an integrated system for now, is the way to go. With the lithium mine up in Northern Nevada, we might see some enterprising folks develop more acceptable battery/storage for green power.

    The world would be a better place if people didn't have to worry about food, clothing, and shelter. That's as "liberal" as I get folks.

    Blessings and Peace,

  9. Another Hyped energy source that is NOT ready for prime time. Like the other HYped technologies are not ready for prime time. The power output is too low and inconsistent to be a viable, reliable power source.

  10. So you are telling me the 437.5 years it takes to payoff the wind turbine will benefit $4.00 per month after that. How long will the turbine last.