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The Green Life: Can I Build a Backyard Wind Turbine?

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February 20, 2013

Can I Build a Backyard Wind Turbine?

Ask Mr. GreenHey Mr. Green,

I’d love to be able to build a wind turbine to generate electricity on my property. Is that even possible? And if so, what do I need to know? 

--Jesse in Half Moon Bay, California

Home wind energy is doable. But first, ask your zoning and building-code authorities whether a turbine of any size would be legal on your property. Local rules are all over the map: Some places might let you erect a turbine in a cemetery, while others won’t allow you to plant so much as a Porta-Potty on your premises. Also, understand that a turbine big enough to power a household typically needs at least an acre of space.

Next, to see about how much electricity you can expect to generate, try a tool like the one at solar-estimate.org and get turbine dealers’ estimates. A $20,000 turbine typically cranks out 3,500 kilowatt-hours per year. Homes in the U.S. consume an average of 12,000 kWh a year, though this can vary greatly; my three-hominid house uses only 2,800 kWh a year.

Installing your own device isn’t for the general handyperson, so unless you’re a pro, leave the job to the dealer (DIY gizmos are available, but their output is low.) Try for a turbine approved by the Small Wind Certification Council.

Tax credits and rebates (see dsireusa.org) can cut the cost of a turbine by thousands of dollars, depending on its location and utility and government policies. The IRS, for example, lets you knock 30% of a turbine’s price off your taxes.

Wind power’s not always a breeze, but with 20 million U.S. homes sited on an acre or more, it has some real residential potential.

Got an eco-question? Ask Mr. Green!

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