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Expensive Wind Turbine Failure

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World magazine — When President Barack Obama lauded the future potential of solar and wind energy at a recent campaign stop in Nevada, it was a good thing he was in Boulder City and not Reno. There officials might have greeted his comments with skepticism, in light of Reno’s wind turbine fiasco.

In 2009, Reno received a $2.1 million block grant to make energy efficiency improvements as part of the federal stimulus package. The city used $416,000 of the grant to build nine wind turbines (seven of which have been completed), and expected to reduce its energy bills by nearly $5,000 a year. It also received wind rebates from the state’s major power utility (NV Energy) totaling over $167,000.

But several of the turbines are producing far less power than the manufacturers predicted. “When we started getting actual wind flow patterns, we realized their claims were wrong,” Jason Geddes, a Reno energy official, told the Las Vegas Sun. One turbine, installed on a parking garage in 2010 for a hefty $21,500, has provided the city a total energy savings of $4 so far. The city’s entire wind program has saved just $2,800—and at that rate it will take 150 years of turbine operation to recoup the cost of installing them.

The problem is that Reno lies in a valley where winds are less intense than in neighboring areas. Across Nevada, businesses, individuals, and local governments have installed about 150 wind turbines under NV Energy’s rebate program, funded by the utility’s customers. Critics of the program have offered a common-sense suggestion: Don’t give out the rebates until the turbines prove they can produce energy-saving power.

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