San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today that the city is adding wind power to its portfolio of potential earth-friendly energy sources.
Advocates say urban wind power is still in its “nascent” stage, but a city task force today capped off a yearlong study by issuing 29 recommendations designed to encourage residents, businesses and city government facilities to install rooftop or backyard turbines to harness wind and convert it into usable energy.
At an outdoor news conference on an especially windy afternoon, Newsom said he wants to “challenge people’s perception that wind is a rural or suburban phenomenon.”
Newsom said a visit to Casa Verde, an energy-neutral home in the Mission District with a working wind turbine, inspired the creation of a city wind power task force, which issued today’s report. The document’s recommendations include altering permit and building guidelines to encourage turbines, supporting start-up companies manufacturing the technology, and creating “demonstration sites” to explore how this power source could fit into San Francisco.
The report also calls for the creation of a wind map, similar to the existing solar map, to show which city microclimates are best suited to wind generation.
The city owns two small wind turbines, at the Randall Museum and the San Francisco Zoo, and is considering other sites like Ocean Beach and Treasure Island for larger demonstration projects, Newsom said.
He acknowledged that there are still “lots of questions and asterisks” surrounding wind power. The task force, for instance, included the Golden Gate Audubon Society to weigh in on how spinning rooftop turbines could threaten birds.
The recommendations announced today are designed to help the city learn more about wind farming, and ease the process for companies interested in developing the technology, or residents interested in adopting it.
Residential and small-scale urban wind power is still a “nascent technology,” according to Todd Pelman, a task force member and founder of micro-turbine manufacturer Blue Green Pacific, located in the Bayview neighborhood. In addition to potentially lethal impacts on errant birds, micro-turbines are costly to install and permit approval is complicated, he said.
Even as the technology advances, residents should not anticipate giant turbines popping up in the skyline. The amount of power generated depends on the size of the turbine and how fast the wind is blowing, according to Pelman. Using wind to power an entire residence would require a “prohibitively large” device, he said.
Current models are designed to supplement traditional household power sources, he said. They work only in winds of 9 mph or faster.
Wind power is one of a variety of energy sources being studied or promoted by San Francisco. Solar power is a well-established priority for the city, and wave and tidal power are also under consideration.
City government is working toward obtaining 50 of its roughly 120-megawatt annual municipal energy usage from renewable sources, according to Jared Blumenfeld, director of the Department of the Environment. Electric-powered buses and city vehicles create “quite a large electric load,” he said. The city hopes to be carbon-neutral by 2030.