Climbing the Energy Everest: Page 2 of 4

The Ups & Downs of Creating a Net Zero-Energy Home
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Inside this Article

Mel and Charleen Tyree's house
Mel and Charleen Tyree's house
The Tyree's barn
The Tyree's barn was designed to perfectly accommodate a 10 KW PV array.
Erecting the tower—10 feet at a time.
Erecting the tower—10 feet at a time.
Final section—120 feet up.
Final section—120 feet up.
Hoisting the rotor.
Hoisting the rotor.
The rotor assembly of the 10 KW Bergey
Even just the rotor assembly of the 10 KW Bergey is big and heavy.
Mel and Charleen with the PV system‘s component wall.
Mel and Charleen with the PV system‘s component wall.
 A battery bank of 36, 2-volt cells
Ready to be wired: A bank of 36, 2-volt cells can provide about 60 KWH hours of backup electricity.
Mel and Charleen Tyree's house
The Tyree's barn
Erecting the tower—10 feet at a time.
Final section—120 feet up.
Hoisting the rotor.
The rotor assembly of the 10 KW Bergey
Mel and Charleen with the PV system‘s component wall.
 A battery bank of 36, 2-volt cells

Because net-metering eligibility in New York limits the size of residential PV systems to 10 KW, we planned to add a 10 KW wind turbine to the 10 KW PV array. Based on our site’s solar and wind resources, this hybrid system was projected to offset 100% of our home’s energy use. Ice storms can cause extended power failures in our area, so we wanted a grid-tied PV system with battery backup, which would supply electricity for the critical loads: an emergency backup oil furnace, well pump, refrigerator, some lights, and a microwave.

Working the System

Our plan was to install wind and PV systems prior to building the house, and we didn’t want to waste any time. Within days of closing on the property, we contracted Sustainable Energy Developments Inc. (SED) of Ontario, New York, to install a 10 KW Bergey wind generator on a 120-foot tower. But, in all the excitement, we overlooked a few critical details. Apparently, our local power company, New York State Electric & Gas Corp. (NYSEG), was not very supportive of on-site residential power generation. Even more sobering, at that time, was that New York’s residential net-metering legislation for wind systems was not as favorable as it was for PV systems. We would be credited only 4.2 cents per KWH for excess energy our wind turbine produced but would have to pay 17 cents per KWH for this “premium” electricity when we needed to buy it back from the utility.

Another hurdle came when we discovered that the state’s property tax exemption for solar- and wind-electric systems was voluntary, and that our local tax authority was one of the few in the state that had opted out of the program. Based on the full-retail value of our planned RE systems, the associated property tax payment would amount to $3,000 per year. By the numbers, our project made little economic sense. But we weren’t going to give up that easily.

We became frequent faces at city council and school board meetings, grabbing anyone and everyone’s ear whenever we could to make our case for reversing the property tax policy. For all our effort, we did persuade the local tax assessor to add a new stipulation that the property taxes for each new system would not exceed $227 per year—versus the $3,000 we had originally projected. Other good news was that the New York state legislature was on board to approve a bill that restructured the net-metering rules for wind energy. According to these rules, which went into effect in 2006, we would get full retail value for excess energy produced in any given year, provided that the energy credits were used within the same 12-month period. With the dollars-and-cents side of things looking more promising, we decided to proceed with our project.

Wrangling the Wind

Due to all of the regulatory hurdles, it wasn’t until August 2005 that the Bergey wind generator was up and spinning. The actual wind turbine installation went very smoothly. SED did a fantastic job assembling the tower, turbine, and balance of system components. However, we couldn’t find an appropriately sized crane within any reasonable distance from the site to lift a pre-assembled tower. The resulting section-by-section installation of the tower using rigging and a gin pole turned out to be one of the highlights of the project for me.

Anyone with long-term experience with home-scale wind systems will tell you that the technology isn’t for the faint-hearted, and my experience mirrors this seasoned perspective. Compared to low-maintenance PV modules, which have no moving parts and typically carry 25-year warranties, wind turbines are inherently reliant on rotating parts that are exposed to some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Turbines have a tough job to do and, over time, can fail. While our wind turbine installation went without a hitch, some technical issues with the system still lay ahead.

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