Yesterday I poked my head into the American Wind Energy Association's national conference in Los Angeles, which was not only well-attended by wind energy enthusiasts and industry manufacturers but by a well-known mayor (Villaragosa, of Los Angeles), a few governors (Schweitzer of Montana and Culver of Iowa) not to mention a senator (Daschle) and a congressman (McNerney). There was lots of big talk about how wind is the future, and a big exhibition hall full of big manufacturers of big wind turbines and poles and transmission lines and other sorts of hi-tech geegaw, but the thing that most interested me was the small wind area. It was only a few booths, but there was something about it them appealed to me as an individual, a green energy enthusiast and, let's face it, a typical American consumer (hey, I could buy that!).
For about $15,000, for instance (much of which is permitting and installation fees), you could invest in the Skystream 3.7, a small, sleek-looking wind turbine that can generate between 40-100% of a home or small business' power needs. (It actually does look pretty cool; the company calls it "the iPod of wind power.") There's no battery or anything, it connects directly to your home, and depending on how your local utility works, if it gets really windy it might even start spinning your meter backwards (meaning the power company pays you, rather than the other way around). Of course, it's not quite plug-and-play yet (as iPods are): you have to have an average wind speed of about 10mph, live on a half-acre with unobstructed views, make sure your local zoning laws permit you to erect 42-foot structures on your property and, oh yeah, find out if your power company will actually let you hook this thing up. (Check out the company's website for more info.)