On a recent sunny afternoon Bob Loebelenz pauses to gaze 72 feet
into the air at the spinning blades of his wind turbine, a small
"clean, free electricity" smile creasing the corners of his mouth.
While giant wind turbines that supply power to utilities sprout
along ridgelines across the United States, far smaller residential
wind generators, like the one Mr. Loebelenz erected in 2003 to power
his suburban Boston home, are still unusual in densely populated
That may be changing. Across the country signs are growing that
"small wind" (a category that includes wind generators geared to
supply a single home) is catching on in suburban and even urban
"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Mark Durrenberger,
president and founder of New England Breeze, a Hudson, Mass., wind
and solar power installer.
Improved generator technology, more financial incentives, rising
electric rates, and energy-security concerns have opened the way for
small-wind power to bloom in unlikely places.
"Small wind really seems to be taking off for residential, small
business, and farm use," says Trudy Forsyth, leader of the
distributed wind program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
in Golden, Colo.
The installed capacity of "on grid" small-wind residential
generators has almost tripled, from 1,300 kilowatts nationwide in
2006 to 3,000 kilowatts last year, says the American Wind EnA-A-A-
ergy Association (AWEA), a Washington-based trade organization. The
number of residential installations rose from 400 to 1,200 units in
the same period.
Supplying that tiny but red-hot market are dozens of new
companies that have popped up since 2000. Though a half-dozen
companies dominate the market, AWEA tracks about 45 US
manufacturers. With demand strong overseas, too, the US is the world
leader in small-wind power, exporting more than half of what it
"The growth we're now seeing in small-wind residential in the US
is impressive," says Ron Stimmel, who tracks the small-wind market
for AWEA. "Advanced technology and electronics have made these units
more reliable, and more states are now offering incentives to build
At least 26 states have tax or productivity incentives or other
subsidies to support wind energy, Ms. Forsyth says. But strong
growth is happening even without the federal tax incentives enjoyed
by solar panels and big utility-scale wind turbines, she notes.
Countervailing breezes are blowing.
Long held down by high up-front costs, lack of federal subsidies,
and neighborhood opposition on aesthetic and noise grounds, small
residential wind-power use continues to grow far more slowly than
solar photovoltaic "panels," experts say. Some also oppose small-
wind units claiming they are "bird Cuisinarts," Loebelenz says,
though he has never found dead birds by his unit.
Another major hurdle is zoning laws. While few states or the
25,000 local zoning authorities have laws specific to wind power,
that's changing, Mr. Stimmel says. Five states - Wisconsin,
California, Michigan, Vermont, and New York - now prohibit local
zoning laws from blanket small-wind prohibitions. …