smallwindMontana is one of the windiest states in the country!  In fact, our wind energy potential ranks among the top five of all 50 states.  Dozens of Montanans are harnessing the wind to produce electricity and reduce their utility bills.  Nationwide, there are 100,000 small wind turbines in operation!

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about your own small wind system.

Where can I install a small wind system?

For wind power to make sense for you, you need to live in a place with an average annual wind speed of at least 9-10 miles/hour. Obstacles such as trees and buildings cause turbulence that reduces the efficiency of wind turbines; you’ll need to design your wind turbine’s tower high enough to avoid them. You will also need to ensure that wind systems are permitted by local zoning rules.

What size wind turbine do I need?

So-called “small” wind turbines range in size from less than 1 kW up to 100 kW. For a household or small business, 10 kW or less is sufficient.  The turbine picture on this page is 10 kW. By contrast, the large commercial turbines at Montana’s Judith Gap Wind Farm are 1,500 kW each, and one machine provides enough power for 300 homes.

How high will my wind turbine’s tower need to be?

Because wind speed increases the farther you get from the ground, it’s important to have a tall enough tower; 30 feet minimum, or higher depending on your location and surroundings.  Your tower will need to be at least 25 feet taller than anything for 250 feet in any direction.

Grid-tied or off-grid?

If you are connected to the electric grid, you can connect your system to the grid. This allows you to buy utility power when the wind isn’t blowing, rather than requiring battery backup.   In addition, when your wind system is generating more electricity than you’re consuming, this electricity can flow back onto the grid if your utility has an active net-metering program.  This allows your electric meter to spin backwards for a credit.  NorthWestern Energy electric customers can get more information about net metering from the utility by clicking here.  If you buy your electricity from an electric cooperative or from Montana-Dakota Utilities, contact your service provider for information about their net-metering policy.

Off-grid, or standalone, wind energy systems are appropriate in remote areas without access to the grid, and are often much less costly than running a power line to connect to the grid.  Standalone systems require batteries or another backup to provide power when the wind isn’t blowing.

How much will it cost?

The price of a small wind system varies enormously – anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 – depending on the size of the turbine, the tower height, location, and other factors. The best way to minimize the cost of any renewable energy system is to conserve energy in your home first, so that your needs can be met with a smaller renewable energy system. Check out our conservation resources. In addition, incentives and tax credits are available to significantly reduce the price of small wind systems.

What incentives and tax credits are available?

NorthWestern Energy electric customers may be eligible for incentives for renewable energy systems through the Universal Systems Benefit (USB) renewable energy program.  For more information on USB incentives, click here.

Federal Tax Credits are available to cover 30% of the cost of a renewable energy system, with no maximum amount. Federal tax credits expire in 2016.  For more information, click here.

Montana Tax Credits of $500 per taxpayer, up to $1,000 per household, are also available. For more information, click here.

Low-Interest Loans are available from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality through the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program. The current interest rate is 4.0 percent. For more information, click here.

Looking for a contractor?

Check out our Directory of Montana Renewable Energy Dealers/Installers.

More Wind Energy Resources

Photo credit (this page): Sage Mountain Center