Wednesday, April 09, 2008

US wind power advocates see change in the air as oil prices soar

The US economy is still predominantly oil-based, but wind power advocates voiced optimism Tuesday that change is in the air as big states like California seek to boost renewable energy.

Barbara Hayes, executive director of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, said state-backed laws have set "very aggressive" renewable energy goals.

Hayes was in Washington with a large delegation of business and community leaders from California seeking to persuade federal lawmakers to extend increased support to so-called clean technologies such as wind and solar power.

Paul Misso, the chief executive of California-based Marquiss Wind Power, said he was working hard to change the social perceptions of placing a compact wind turbine on a roof to generate renewable electricity.

Misso's firm, which has only been in business since 2006, markets framed roof top wind turbines that pivot into the prevailing wind for commercial buildings.

"Rooftops have very turbulent winds. It's a great place to harness the wind for power generation," Misso said, during a break at a Washington hotel from back-to-back business and lobbying meetings.

Hayes said she is encouraged by the number of new clean technology firms setting up business in and around Sacramento, California's state capital.

She said the western city has opened its doors to clean technology development and start-up firms like Marquiss Wind Power.

The US wind power industry is growing, but it accounts for a small share of overall power generation as most American households and businesses still derive their power from more traditional energy sources such as coal and nuclear power.

America's wind energy industry expanded its total wind power generating capacity by 45 percent in 2007, but wind farms still only generate just over one percent of the US electricity supply, according to the US Wind Power Association.

Hayes said the delegation was working hard to grab the sustained attention of Congress.

"We're here as part of a regionwide effort. There are about 350 business and community leaders on the trip this year. They are lobbying members of Congress on outstanding issues, one of which is clean and green technology," she said.

Misso said it was about time clean technology firms won some of the same incentives offered to the oil and gas industry.

"I think when you see the next administration switch over it will eliminate the roadblocks for changing some of the incentives from oil incentives" he predicted, referring to November's fast-approaching presidential election.

Wind power advocates say record high oil prices are also encouraging some businesses to consider alternative and more cost effective power supplies, and competition among clean technology providers is stiff.

Thule Inc., a leading US manufacturer of transportation accessories, said Tuesday it had agreed a contract with American Capital Energy to install a solar photovoltaic system on the roof of its corporate headquarters in Seymour, Connecticut.

The transportation accessories maker said the high tech solar equipment will supply about 26 percent of its headquarters' total electrical needs, helping to offset its power bills as well as improving the environment.

Marquiss Wind Power is marketing 5- and 10-kilowatt wind turbines which cost 29,000 and 59,000 dollars respectively and the company hopes to sell its roof top wind turbines to customers in Chile, Israel and India.

One potential roadblock Misso is trying to knock down is local US ordinances barring large structures being sited on commercial roofs.

Marquiss's wind turbines are about 17 square feet (5.1 square meters), with a 12-foot (3.7 meter) diameter fan in the middle.

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