One of the hot topics at AWEA’s Windpower conference last week was community wind. What makes a wind farm a “community wind” project, you ask? Community wind projects are generally spearheaded by members of the community in which the project is installed, who wish to directly benefit from the energy produced. As such, the projects are usually just a few turbines, but can include as many turbines as the community desires.
At least 44 community wind projects were installed in the United States in 2011, accounting for between 6 and 7 percent of new installed wind capacity. As a whole, community wind power accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and provides learning opportunities for students at hundreds of schools.
According to Windustry, a community wind advocacy organization, there are many different forms of community wind ownership supported by a diversity of entities: local small business owners, farmers, local organizations including schools and universities, as well as Native American Tribes, rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities, and religious institutions.
The motivations for project backers to invest in community wind are often different than those of typical developers. Community wind projects bring benefits to the community such as local electricity generation offered at a lower-than-market price, local jobs, educational opportunities, and pride that the community is forward thinking and generating its own pollution-free power.
With all of these motivating factors driving community wind installations, it’s no surprise that one of community wind’s greatest successes has been—of course—engaging the community and winning public support. While there are various models of community wind enterprises, a common thread among community wind installations is that they bring the community into the project as stakeholders and gives them vested interest in the project. As was reiterated many times throughout the conference last week, engaging stakeholders early and often is sometimes the deciding factor in a project’s success.
Some states have dozens of megawatts of installed community wind capacity (or even hundreds, like Minnesota) and other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, have thousands of megawatts of community wind and hundreds of thousands of household investors. Here in the Southeast, we don’t have any community wind projects. As we look to pioneers of community wind elsewhere, we should be reminded that their success has been predicated on proper policies—including production incentives, guaranteed markets, standardized legal agreements, and capital support. If we want to see community—as well as utility-scale—wind installations in our backyards, we will need to push for the right policies too.