FOR centuries, grist-grinders and sailors have exploited the wind. Now, New York developers, homeowners and city leaders might be coming around.
A handful of buildings are already drawing electricity from wind turbines, which typically resemble table fans, or mounted airplane propellers.
Unlike some of the skyscraping versions that dot rural hillsides, small turbines supply power directly to homes without first sending it through a utility company’s lines.
One major sticking point in the city is that densely packed buildings tend to scatter breezes, making it tough to capture steady gusts. Although this and other kinks need to be addressed before the widespread rollout of small turbines is possible, there are signs of gains.
“We’re always excited to try new things in the area of green building,” says Les Bluestone, a partner in the Blue Sea Development Company, which is building a five-story brick apartment building in the Melrose section of the South Bronx that will be partly powered by wind.
Its 10 one-kilowatt turbines, from AeroVironment of Monrovia, Calif., will generate electricity for lights in the building’s hallways, elevators and other common areas.
But because wind speeds in the Bronx, as in other parts of New York, aren’t consistent, the turbines must be supplemented with a separate basement power plant, Mr. Bluestone said.
Residents of the 63 one- to three-bedroom rental units, meanwhile, will plug in the conventional way, through Con Edison.
The turbines, which collectively cost $100,000, could halve the annual utility bill for the common spaces, to $9,000 from $18,000, Mr. Bluestone said.
And that saving was critical to the budget for the project, which is designated as affordable housing. Indeed, units will be priced below the market, with monthly rents of $750 to $1,089, when leasing starts this month, he said.
Winds in New York City clock in, on average, at six miles an hour. On low-lying Long Island, though, they hover at around 11 miles per hour, meaning a turbine can pick up more of a building’s tab, says Michael Urban, a resident of Brookhaven.
In September, Mr. Urban installed a 1.8-kilowatt turbine from Southwest Windpower of Flagstaff, Ariz., in the yard of his four-bedroom home. It provides a third of his home’s energy, he said.
Though many towns might prohibit a 60-foot tower like the one his turbine sits on, Brookhaven has allowed it. Mr. Urban also received a green light from the 26 other residents of his subdivision, allowing him to overcome some common obstacles to turbines.
“It cost me about $15,000, and I can save about $1,200 a year,” he said. “That adds value to my real estate.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg stoked excitement among wind-power advocates in August when he announced that he supported putting turbines atop city skyscrapers.
Of the 60 proposals that were later submitted to the city under a request for renewable-energy projects, the majority were wind related, including technologies for apartment-mounted machines, said Jen Becker, a vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “It’s definitely something we are looking at seriously,” she said.
The state is also offering encouragement through its Energy Research and Development Authority, which will cover half the homeowner’s initial cost of turbines, though so far there have been no takers south of Dutchess County.
Nationally, too, the wind industry received a boost in October when a provision in the Troubled Assets Relief Program bailout bill created a one-time 30 percent tax credit for the installation costs for homeowners. No credit had existed since 1985.
But the new credit is capped at $4,000, which does little to defray the cost of equipment that can total $70,000, says Mike Bergey, president of Bergey WindPower, a manufacturer in Norman, Okla.
Mr. Bergey also worries that roof-mounted turbines, which can be heavy and produce steady vibrations, might perform poorly on rickety buildings.
“It’s not like it’s impossible,” he said, “but we’re just not really bullish on the New York market.”
By C. J. HUGHES