County preps for a surge in rooftop wind power.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
The potential clash between condors and wind turbines has slowed a proposed big renewable energy project in Salinas Valley. But it may be smoother sailing for local residents and businesses who seek to harness the wind on a smaller scale.
Since February, the Monterey County Business Council has been collaborating with local governments to streamline permitting for residents and businesses who want to generate power with wind turbines. According to MCBC President Mary Ann Leffel, wind pilot projects could be underway within six months.
“I think these initiatives will move forward much quicker than the larger farms will,” Leffel says. “There is a lot of opportunity for our local ag companies to save significant money by getting some of their power from wind.”
Recent improvements to wind turbines, such as mesh screening and blade encasement, make the technology less likely to harm birds, bats and other wildlife, Leffel notes.
Policymakers are evaluating the latest wind power technology based on potential impacts to species of concern, according to Alana Knaster, deputy director of the county Resource Management Agency. The technology is so new that many cities lack permitting rules for small-scale wind power. In cities farther from where condors hunt, she says, a streamlined over-the-counter permit may soon become available.
Once harm to wildlife is mitigated, wind power becomes highly marketable. According to Peter Catalano, owner of Santa Cruz-based Solar and Wind Synergies, wind power provides a number of advantages when compared to solar energy.On a typical residential home, solar panels require 2,000-4,000 square feet of south-facing rooftop, while a vertical wind turbine only needs a 2-to-4-foot base.
“You can get about five hours of sun in summer for solar power,” Catalano says. “Wind can generate power 15 hours per day year-round, so when the sun lets up, the wind makes up for it.”
Knaster says the county is working with local cities, the county, and state and federal wildlife agenciesto make wind projects more accessible.
“Collaboration is exciting,” she says. “It’s a difficult issue, so we need it.”
Monterey Peninsula Airport officials are discussing green alternatives to the conventional power grid, including wind. Local officials and business leaders hope that line of thinking will keep Monterey County ahead of the wind-power curve.
“The business council is looking at all forms of renewable energy and water conservation to be good stewards of the area,” Leffel says. “It is also a way for people to save money and be more competitive globally.”