The year 2011 was a bad one for manufacturers of small wind turbines. Incidents across the United States raised questions about the quality of these systems. For example, at one site in New Jersey, a 10-kilowatt Xzeres turbine caught fire both at the nacelle at the top of the turbine and at the control unit located in the residence’s garage. At another site, three turbine blades separated from the rotor of an Enertech turbine. In California, the DyoCore company was accused of overrating the performance of its turbines to qualify for a heftier California Clean Energy Commission subsidy. Events like this generated bad publicity that undercut consumer confidence and led some states to suspend their incentive programs for small wind turbines.

Regardless of whether these incidents were a result of a manufacturing flaw or an installation error, the damage was done—the technology was seen as unreliable and consumer confidence was shaken. Further investigations by some of the states indicated that many installed turbines were not performing up to manufacturers’ claims. Corrective action was clearly needed to preserve a future market for disbursed, small-scale wind turbines.

States Pool Resources to Develop Best Practices and an Equipment List

States and utilities that offered incentive programs to support small, distributed wind decided to pool their resources to address the turbine performance and reliability issues. The group, which initially consisted of California, New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin, concluded that maintaining individual lists of turbines that qualified for financial incentives was neither cost-effective nor an efficient way to foster a market for reliable turbines. Moreover, these independent state-approved turbine lists were not based on third party information about the performance and reliability of various turbines.

The states therefore decided to form the Interstate Turbine Advisory Council (ITAC), which would be managed by the Clean Energy States Alliance. ITAC members established eligibility criteria for distributed wind turbines and set conditions that manufacturers had to meet to qualify for incentives. The goal was to create a set of requirements to ensure that consumers, utilities, and taxpayer funded incentive programs support safe and reliable wind turbines. At the same time, an existing effort by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) to certify small wind turbines, the AWEA 9.1 standard, was gaining momentum and third-party testing was becoming more widespread.

ITAC created a set of eligibility requirements for distributed wind turbines. For small turbines with a rotor swept area of less than 200 square meters, ITAC accepts the AWEA small wind turbine standard and required third party-verified performance ratings and acoustic information. For medium-size wind turbines, which were not covered by the AWEA standard, ITAC’s eligibility requirements include performance tests, operational history milestones, or design evaluation. These review criteria for medium-size turbines were developed with the help of the Distributed Wind Energy Association and are serving as an interim standard until an international standard is developed and formally adopted.

Energy Trust of Oregon, one of the founding members of ITAC, initially had limited experience with varied turbines and manufacturers because Oregon had a relatively modest market for small wind turbines. Chris Dearth, program director at Energy Trust, calls collaboration with colleagues across the country through ITAC invaluable. He says, “It has been extremely helpful to not only share information, but to also benefit from the market power provided by a multi-state collaboration to leverage improved industry performance.”

The ITAC Unified List currently features nine small wind turbines and four medium wind turbines. Nine incentive programs across the United States support and use the Unified List. Current ITAC participating organizations are the Energy Trust of Oregon, Maryland Energy Commission,  Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Minnesota Department of Commerce, New Jersey Clean Energy Program, NV Energy, NYSERDA, PG&E, and Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund.

The ITAC listing criteria evaluate manufacturer business practices and consider, among other things, the strength and length of the turbine warranty, the manufacturer’s customer service record, and requirements for installer training. These additional review criteria add value to the ITAC list beyond certification, because even a certified turbine will not necessarily perform well if it is installed at a poor site or if the manufacturer fails to honor its warranty or provide maintenance services. ITAC collects consumer testimonials and shares turbine information from across the nation. Some state programs collect performance data from installations that they have supported; some make site visits before and after installations; and some maintain lists of qualified turbine installers. Together, the ITAC eligibility requirements and the additional ITAC-member installation information help create an equipment standards list that safeguard consumers as well as ratepayer and taxpayer funds.

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This blog post was originally published in the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA)’s 2015 report “Clean Energy Champions: The Importance of State Policies and Programs.” This report provides the first-ever comprehensive look at the ways states are advancing clean energy and suggests how to further encourage clean energy growth.

This blog post was also published on Renewable Energy World.