Workshop Explores Potential of Wind Innovations for Rural Economic Development

May 20, 2019

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Stakeholders share information on distributed wind’s unique opportunities and challenges

Red barn-like structure, with solar panels on roof, wind turbines and water tower in background.
The quality wind resources, retail rates, and population densities needed for distributed wind development are often found in rural regions of the United States. Photo courtesy of Organic Valley

Distributed wind systems connect directly to the distribution grid on the customer side of the meter or at an off-grid location to support local loads or grid operations. It is estimated that there are gigawatts of economically viable distributed wind potential, and these systems do not require new transmission capacity construction, relying instead on the capacity available on local distribution grids. The quality wind resources, retail rates, and population densities needed for distributed wind development are often found in rural regions of the United States.

In late 2018, the WETO Wind Innovations for Rural Economic Development workshop brought together representatives from the U.S. government, national laboratories, rural electric utilities, national associations, the wind energy industry, and the financial community to share information about needs, challenges, and experiences unique to distributed energy resources and distributed wind energy systems in rural areas.

The resulting report summarizes perspectives from participants and key takeaways including:

  • Win-win-win solutions must benefit rural electric customers and distribution utilities, as well as rural generation and transmission utilities.
  • Information resources such as communications toolkits and online videos, combined with forums for knowledge exchange, could help effectively address financial and technical issues specific to distributed wind co-ops.
  • Hybrid wind-solar-storage systems, microgrids, beneficial electrification, and commercial and industrial applications could help simultaneously advance distributed wind and rural economic development.
  • Despite complex legal and contractual obligations, generation and transmission co-ops and distribution co-ops can find ways to work together on mutually beneficial distributed generation opportunities.
  • Education and outreach on distributed wind can help counter misinformation by debunking myths and providing accurate information about environmental impacts.
  • Challenges to further development of distributed wind include lack of a clear value proposition and granular data, particularly on reliability.

Future WETO activities will investigate these recommendations in greater detail, as well as explore opportunities for demonstration projects, identify key factors in public acceptance, and research possible cost-reduction measures.