Administration officials and wind energy stakeholders agreed May 4 to pursue a series of steps to remove barriers to the development of community wind facilities and distributed wind systems.

Updating or creating financing mechanisms that can generate small wind development was a top priority among proposals agreed upon by representatives of USDA, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and several stakeholder groups at a forum hosted by 25x’25 at USDA.

“Community and distributed wind projects are an important element of our nation's energy strategy and the role federal agencies can and should play to support their development drove our discussion,” said Peggy Beltrone, president of Exergy Integrated Systems, a member of the National 25x'25 Steering Committee, and co-chair of Wednesday's roundtable. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan kicked off the forum.

Forum participants agreed to continue meeting in the near term to further address financing, policy, deployment and social acceptance barriers to community wind. To be discussed in future sessions will be the re-engineering and streamlining of existing federal programs, and the tailoring of federal procurement programs to incentivize the development of community wind facilities.

"Community wind projects support multiple national goals, providing clean and secure energy and rural economic benefits," Beltrone said. "Federal agencies have the power to clear a path for this important segment of renewables by coordinating efforts through, for example, funding from USDA's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Under the auspices of USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan, the roundtable discussion showed that these agencies are willing to use their collective power and to advance right-sized solutions for Rural Americans."

Roundtable participants learned that community wind emphasizes local ownership and encompasses a broad range of formats, from private partnerships among rural landowners, to projects by consumer-owned utilities, schools and native tribes, to collaborative structures that engage outside organizations, though generally leaving local owners with more significant returns than utility-scale wind projects.

Because of the typically smaller scale of the projects involved, individual landowners and local institutions such as schools, towns, counties and tribes can bring their own financial and political assets to the table. Furthermore, community wind can be a pathway for collaborations between major wind developers and local communities, advocates say.

Community wind currently makes up about four percent of total U.S. wind power capacity, but interest is surging. Advocates point out that a small-scale community wind project can be a useful tool to gauge whether a site has potential for future expansion, and often increases community support for siting new wind projects. Smaller community wind installations also can fit into niches where transmission capacity is limited, and strengthen local distribution networks by putting supply near the load.

A recent DOE study compared economic impacts of one large 40-megawatt (MW) plant owned by outside investors to twenty smaller, locally owned 2-MW plants, finding that the latter generated $4 million in local income compared to $1.3 million that stays local from an outside-investor owned facility. The smaller, locally owned plants also create 41 jobs, the DOE says, compared with just 18 at the single, larger facility.

Another recent DOE study estimates that the United States has more than 8,000 gigawatts (GW) of available, land-based wind resources that industry officials believe can be economically developed. Furthermore, a 20-percent share of U.S. electricity would require only 300 GW to be on-line by 2030.

Distributed wind power on farms, residences, military sites, and public buildings can play a prominent role in our nation's energy strategy just like community wind. Distributed wind, advocates say, is heavily dominated by domestic small, entrepreneurial manufacturers, and can stay that way with the right policies in place. Distributed wind is often "behind the meter," directly serving the owner, and providing consumer choice, significant savings, energy security and independence to the user, while also creating environmental progress.

"Although large-scale wind development along the corporate model will likely continue as the dominant form in the United States," Beltrone said, "community and distributed wind are already demonstrating its potential to make a far greater contribution."