Turbine Certification Informs Consumers, Advances Market

By, Mick Sagrillo

The Internal Revenue Service now requires small wind turbines—like this one in Kansas—to be “certified” in order to qualify for the 30% Investment Tax Credit. Image: Mick Sagrillo

In recent years, the small wind marketplace has been awash with new turbine introductions as a response to public benefits funding and consumer interest in mitigating climate change with environmentally friendly electricity generation. Relative to wind turbines, consumers are unfortunately all too often technologically challenged, instead taken in by trumped up benefits like “bird friendly,” “technology breakthrough,” and “energy-efficient.” This has resulted in a trail of abandoned wind systems and disappointed customers who wasted their money.

After several years in the works, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-4 (1.usa.gov/1FeAsVe) earlier this year, which requires that small wind turbines—defined as having a nameplate capacity of up to 100 kilowatts (kW)—must be “certified” in order to qualify for the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Manufacturers can acquire certification for a particular turbine model by meeting the requirements of either the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA’s) Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard 9.1-2009 or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 61400-1, 61400-12, and 61400-11.

The Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA) (distributedwind.org) took the lead in working with the IRS to modify IRS rules so that only certified turbines are eligible for the ITC. “Certification is of critical importance to ensure high quality products make it to market,” said Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of DWEA. “These certification requirements provide performance and quality assurance for consumers, government agencies, and the industry.”

According to Jenkins, the new certification requirement addresses the small but persistent segment at the fringe of the industry that make wild assertions on efficiency, performance, and their special ability to work on buildings or on very short towers. In order to qualify for the ITC, these companies must prove these claims to third-party experts, which will be very challenging or impossible for unproven designs with exaggerated performance. It will not pose a major barrier for the industry leaders.

In order to meet the IRS requirements, a manufacturer must apply for certification through the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) (smallwindcertification.org), Intertek (intertek.com/wind/small), or one of the other certification agencies that has reciprocity with these two in the United States. Once the requirements of AWEA 9.1-2009 are met for a given small wind turbine, certification is awarded to the manufacturer. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to provide the customer with the appropriate documentation showing that full certification has been granted. Anyone interested in purchasing a small wind turbine and applying for the 30% ITC (and who wouldn’t?) should insist on receiving the certification documentation before signing on any dotted lines.

“Certification helps consumers distinguish between the good, the bad, and the untested wind turbines on the market and helps consumers accurately compare the wide variety of products available,” explained SWCC Executive Director Larry Sherwood.

Sherwood also notes that certification requirements help government agencies ensure that public funds spent on distributed wind installations are going to safe, quality systems. The requirements are also a means of consumer protection against untested technologies, unverified claims about turbine performance, and equipment failures.

The cost to apply for the appropriate testing and then apply for certification is not insubstantial, but neither is it cost-prohibitive for a bona fide manufacturer with the financial wherewithal to be in business in the first place. Although there are hundreds of small wind turbine models on the internet to choose from, interestingly, there are only 16 fully certified turbines at this time, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s List of Certified Small Wind Turbines (bit.ly/1F7HQAt) and DWEA’s list (bit.ly/1G6Qn8Y).

This speaks volumes about separating the wheat from the chaff. If the turbine you are interested in is not on one of the two above lists, caveat emptor!

Mick Sagrillo (msagrillo@wizunwired.net) teaches and consults about wind power, and has powered his home with wind since 1982.