Going Green With Wind Power
More companies and organizations are finding that wind power makes sense for their energy needs, from both an environmental and a financial perspective.
Richard J. Maturi (Apr/May 09)
Wind power represents the thrust of the future for companies that are positioned to take advantage of it. "Wind power represents one of the ways a company can go green," says Joel Goldberg, a partner in the Energy Group of the Houston, Texas-based law firm Porter & Hedges. "They can enter into contracts to purchase clean, emission-free power or install their own wind turbines."

Consultants like Goldberg help companies analyze a number of key factors before embarking on installing wind turbines. Right at the top: Is there enough wind velocity to generate adequate capacity, typically a minimum of 11 to 13 miles per hour? And does the available wind match the company's energy load?
For a number of businesses and educational institutions around the country, the benefits of wind power are paying dividends in measurable cost savings and community good will.

"Our desire to use more renewable energy goes back many years. We are constantly striving for more efficient use of energy to power our operations and reduce the impact on the environment," says Steve Schultz, corporate energy manager for 3M Corporation. According to Schultz, 3M as a whole is on target to improve energy efficiency as much as 20 percent by 2010. Using clean power sources such as the Austin Energy's GreenChoice option at its Austin, Texas, facilities, 3M stands to benefit from more stable energy costs, since power from wind and other renewable sources is not affected by fuel adjustments associated with petroleum-based energy.

Wind power generation isn't only for industrial companies in Texas. Financial services giant USAA in San Antonio, Texas, ranks as the largest Windtricity Business Partner of CPS Energy to purchase energy from the utility's Texas wind farms. In December 2008, USAA inked an agreement to offset with wind power an amount equal to what it would take to power approximately 200 San Antonio homes a year. By offering its business customers the opportunity to purchase power from Texas wind farm developments, CPS targets reaching renewable energy capacity equal to 20 percent of its customers' peak electrical demand by 2020.

Universities are also getting into wind power, both for its practical uses and as an educational opportunity. Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, teamed up with Franklin Wind Energy Group LLC to install a wind turbine on top of the university's engineering building.

"It's a tremendous challenge to install a six-kilowatt wind turbine on an existing structure and tie into the existing grid to deliver reliable power to existing customers," says Caisheng Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering & Division of Engineering Technology. "We worked with Franklin Wind, who will provide the turbine and 50 percent of development costs. We collected wind velocities, performed vibration studies, and designed a new vertical access wind turbine to make this project work. This project provides the opportunity to cut power costs and use the wind turbine as a research and instructional tool."

Tom Michelman, a principal with Boreal Renewable Energy Development in Arlington, Massachusetts, says there are a number of benefits to on-site power generation through wind power and other energy sources. "The energy you produce has a retail value that can be used to offset and stabilize your energy costs. It helps you save and hedge against future energy prices and you can sell your excess capacity," he says. Depending on the dependability of the wind resource, current electric rates, load size, and turbine size, Michelman estimates  that installing a wind turbine can cut a company's energy costs by 10 to 40 percent.

Varian Semiconductor in Gloucester, Massachusetts, has been working with Boreal Renewable to analyze wind power as a way to cut its energy costs. "We operate 24/7 and are a high energy user. We look at wind power as a way to operate more efficiently," says Richard Johnson, Varian's director of facilities. "Our due diligence includes performing feasibility studies and flying to Germany to inspect wind turbines. The new incentives for wind power in the [federal economic] stimulus package cuts our return on investment by two years. As a result, consideration of installing a wind turbine is back on the table. Our tax attorneys are running the final numbers now."

In Hancock, Massachusetts, consulting firm EOS Ventures got its start in the wind power business by facilitating the only privately owned megawatt class turbine in the country for onsite energy usage at its Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort. "Our family has been in the ski business for decades and has a great sensitivity to the environment. We look for ways to conserve energy and cut our operating costs," says Tyler Fairbank, CEO of EOS Ventures. "We purchased 10 million kilowatt hours off the grid per year, constituting 10 percent of our overall expenses. It makes good business sense to find better ways to generate power. Forty percent of the wind power we generate is used on the property and we sell back 60 percent to the grid."

EOS Ventures worked with Fox Islands Wind LLC to provide sustainable energy for the 1,600 full-time residents and a summer population of 3,500 for two islands in Maine's Penobscot Bay. "We anticipate commissioning the wind power project in October with three GE 1.5-megawatt wind turbines," says George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind, which is owned by the electric co-op's rate payers. "The project is sized to provide all of the power the islands will use over the course of a year and reduce overall electric rates by 10 to 20 percent. Our goal is to become economically self-sufficient. All of the benefits of the project flow back to our community."