San Francisco Scouts Urban Wind

Making San Francisco a solar city isn’t enough for Mayor Gavin Newsom — he also wants to refashion it as the new windy city. Speaking beneath a 1.8 kW Skystream wind turbine in San Francisco’s Mission District (spied by E2T here), Newsom announced the creation of the “Residential Wind Power Work Group,” which will investigate the feasibility of small-scale wind power generation in the city.

One of the things we wanted to underscore is the opportunity to take wind turbines and bring them into an urban setting. Most people are familiar wind turbines when they go down the Altamont Pass or they go down towards Palm Springs or Bakersfield…Many are not familiar with the opportunity to do wind in their own backyard, in this case quite literally.

Newsom said he became interested in wind power while pushing for tidal power under the Golden Gate Bridge, saying the tidal turbines are simply submarine wind turbines. He added that the Public Utility Commission (PUC), which has been studying tidal as well as wave energy off the coasts of San Francisco, is now also actively investigating offshore wind turbines — the ultimate in NIMBY eco-phobia.

The task force has yet to be fully formed, but it will consist of some 15 members, including reps from the PUC, the city Department of the Environment, and industry experts. The ultimate goal of the group is to provide data showing that urban wind is feasible. Then the mayor can move to legislatively change the local building and zoning codes to make it easier to put up a 35-foot tall pole with a turbine on it.

While there is no shortage of companies looking to build wee-wind turbines, permitting is by the far the biggest barrier for urban wind. “We’re just waiting on your zoning,” David Monteith, a rep from Southwest Windpower, who built the Skystream, said to the mayor. The turbines, he explained, cost between $13,000 and $15,000. But residential owners could tap into the federal Production Tax Credit for a $4,000 tax credit, noted Robin Wilson, owner of the green home and wind turbine where the meeting was held. Wilson also runs Meridian Builders & Developers, which finances urban wind-power installations.

While the mayor’s solar incentive program is still mired in legislative politics, it’s good to see him pushing forward with ever-newer and greener initiatives. The city is already assessing 27 locations for wind energy on Treasure Island, a decommissioned naval base in the Bay that’s being converted into a green community. That could hold some serious wind potential.

Picture courtesy of Robin Wilson.


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