Wind energy blows into WNC

Wind energy blows into WNC

By Brent Summerville on 03/16/2009

A fast-growing wind industry is sweeping across the country, leaving in its wake a new clean-energy infrastructure, impressive economic growth and new high-quality jobs. The U.S. Department of Energy has recently published a report that lays out a plan for wind power to produce 20 percent of our electricity by 2030. The plan shows North Carolina as a strong player, with contribution from wind turbines of all sizes in the mountains, along the coast, in the sounds and off-shore—while requiring no major upgrades to our electrical grid. The windy mountains of Western North Carolina play an important role in this growth, as demonstrated by recent developments in both large- and small-scale wind-energy technologies.

Large wind turbines for our mountain communities
In WNC, wind developers are currently working in the early stages of utility-scale wind-project development. Land owners with large tracts of accessible windy ridge-top land located close to the electrical grid yet outside of sensitive ecosystems and viewsheds are being contacted with land-lease proposals. Once an agreement is made with the land owner, local government will be contacted, public meetings will be held, and wind-resource assessment efforts will begin. No projects have yet been announced in WNC.

Communities, universities and towns are also exploring small-scale projects using one or more medium- to large-scale wind turbines. Jiminy Peak, a ski resort in Western Massachusetts, installed a single 1.5-megawatt wind turbine from GE (manufactured in Greenville, S.C.) that is producing about 33 percent of their electricity—equivalent to powering more than 400 homes. Using student funds from the Appalachian State University Renewable Energy Initiative project, ASU is planning an on-campus installation of a 100kW wind turbine.

Big jobs in big wind
Along with 45 percent growth in the U.S. wind industry in 2007 came continued expansion of the associated supply chain. The PPG plant in Shelby recently announced a $20.5 million expansion to their fiberglass plant, which supplies materials for wind-turbine blades. The expansion was needed to meet growing demand and will bring 120 new jobs. Manufacturing facilities are typically located near wind-project development, so the best way for WNC to continue to play a strong role in supply-chain component manufacturing is to bring wind projects to the mountains, creating a new wind-centered industry that brings new jobs and economic development to the region, as well as locally produced clean power.

Small wind turbines for homes and farms
The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which passed in Congress in October 2008, also contained a new federal tax credit for small wind turbines of $1,000 per kilowatt of rated power—up to $4,000. The new incentive, with the existing N.C. 35-percent state tax credit, will help bring down the upfront cost associated with investing in a small wind-energy system for a home, farm or business in WNC.

ASU Energy Center sees a lot of interest in small wind, as it sends out a steady stream of reports to interested landowners in the 24 mountain counties. Turbines are being installed throughout the region. The most recent installation was a 2.4kW Skystream from Southwest Windpower in Ashe County, installed by Asheville’s Solar Dynamics. The Mountain Valleys RC&D in Madison County was recently awarded a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to install small-scale wind turbines at several county schools, as well as introduce wind energy into the school curriculum.

Small wind can be very rewarding: Enjoy energy security by creating your own electricity, become more connected to weather patterns and the rhythm of the seasons, and interact with your community by hosting curious visitors wanting to learn more about your efforts in sustainability. In an April/May 2008 Mother Earth News article, “Choosing Renewable Energy,” author Wendy Milne says, “The aesthetics of wind turbines are irresistible, and we steal a glance at ours almost every time we walk between the house, garden and workshop.”

WNC to play a big role
As the U.S. moves toward a goal of generating 20 percent of our electricity from wind energy by 2030, our region can benefit greatly, thanks to our abundant wind resources and a growing public demand for clean energy and energy security. To become more involved, watch for public forums, wind workshops and meetings hosted by the N.C. Wind Working group.


Brent Summerville is Renewable Energy Engineer at Appalachian State University Energy Center. He can be reached at or at (828) 262-8331.