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Small turbines lining up for seal of approval

Emma Jacobs / WSKG
Engineer Joseph Spossey walks the site in Otisco where he will test wind turbines.

Growing numbers of people are putting up small wind turbines in their yards or barnyards. But as business booms, it’s become apparent that not all turbines are created equal. This has some in the wind business asking for more regulation of their own industry.

Engineer Joe Spossey has spent the last year preparing a testing facility in a cornfield a few hundred feet from the second highest point in central New York.

Spossey works for Intertek, one of the private testing companies trying to catch up with growing numbers of turbines awaiting a seal of approval that they are safe and worth the investment — the equivalent of the miles-per-gallon rating on a car, or the safety inspection sticker on a toaster. The first turbine is already partly-assembled, lying in three large pieces in the grass.

The small turbine market is growing fast and that makes for some bad apples: turbines that don’t perform as advertised or that don’t last.

Ernie Pritchard, with the Small Wind Certification Council, says when the public sees a failure of a wind turbine , "they make a generalization that this turbine isn’t working. Turbines don’t work. Wind energy is bad.”

The testing site in Otisco is moving forward with help from the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  They anticipate growing demand for turbine testing, beyond what they can handle at they current Colorado testing site - especially since testing a turbine can take up to a year.

Tony Jimenez from NREL says state agencies have become the real driver behind the rush for certification. "Because we see in a few years only certified turbines will be eligible for state incentive money. That’s really the stick that’s driving this forward.”

But official approvals aren’t everything to Ernie Pritchard, from the Small Wind Certification Council. He says he builds relationships with turbines and they have to earn his trust before he’ll recommend them to his customers, and " that comes with time, and it comes with a lot of patience on the part of the installer and the manufacturer and the customer."

It's hard to fit all that on a sticker.


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