Electricity claims fizzle for seven Reno windmills


RENO -- Seven windmills installed by the city of Reno in the past two years have not produced as much energy as promised, but city officials say they are learning more about the best locations for future efforts to harness the breeze.

The most successful windmills are north of the city at the water sewer facility in Stead. The most disappointing are downtown on top of parking garages and City Hall.

Downtown wind speeds have been less than expected compared to windier areas in canyons and up against the Sierra's eastern front, Reno Environmental Services Administrator Jason Geddes told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The windmills were built with about half of a $2.1 million federal energy grant the city received in the economic stimulus package Congress passed in 2009. So far, Geddes says they have saved the city $2,785 after generating 25,319 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

The windmill at the Stead sewer facility with two white blades has generated 11 megawatt-hours over the last 365 days, with an average wind speed of 2.3 mph. Before it was constructed in October 2010, it was expected to generate 10.5 megawatt-hours, according to its Scotland-based manufacturer, Gaia-Wind.

All kidding about political hot air aside, the windmills on top of City Hall, a block from the Truckee River, have fallen far behind the amount of electricity they were projected to produce.

The one on the eastern side of City Hall produced 129 kilowatt-hours over the last 365 days, though its manufacturer, Michigan-based Cascade Engineering Inc., said it would produce 750 kilowatt-hours in a year.

"The vendor looked at it and suggested if we installed them higher we'd get better wind output from them," Geddes said. "That's not what their literature advertised in the beginning. We're finding we're getting turbulence from City Hall itself."

Geddes said city staff is talking to the manufacturer about moving the windmills to a better spot on top of the 16-story building.

The two vertical windmills on top of the downtown Parking Gallery also have lagged in wind energy production.

One of the installations, which looks like a double helix, has produced just 33.4 kilowatt hours since it was installed in September 2010. The manufacturer, Venger Wind, promised it would produce 1,100 kilowatt-hours a year.

Winds have averaged only about 1.3 mph at that location.

Another windmill at the Stead water treatment facility managed to produce nearly 8.7 megawatt-hours in a year, down from an anticipated 10.5 megawatt-hours, before it was shut down in October for repairs. It is expected to be operational again in May.

"The turbines that we have installed up in Stead at the wastewater plant have been two of the most successful turbines we've had and two of the most productive in the state in terms of what they produce," Geddes said.

The windmills are part of the city's larger, $20 million renewable energy effort, funded by $4.7 million grants and rebates, as well as $15.3 million in renewable energy-related bonds that will be paid off using cost savings from the project over the next 15 years.

So far, Reno has reduced its energy consumption by about 45 percent and is saving about $1.1 million in energy costs a year, largely from retrofitting buildings with efficient light bulbs and other cost-saving measures.

In February, the city finished work on nine solar installations that are expected to save up to $3 million in energy costs over the next 20 years, or $150,000 a year, and generate up to 18 percent of the government's electricity.

While Reno's windmill demonstration has generated less power and produced a mixed bag of results, Geddes said they were intended to give the city a chance to experiment with different designs and areas to see which are the best fit for wind-energy production.

 

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