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Wind Power Advocate Interview: Dennis Scanlin, Appalachian State University

A photo of Dennis Scanlin

Dennis Scanlin, Appalachian State University

Wind Power Advocate Interview: Dennis Scanlin, Appalachian State University

Date: 3/1/2005

Location: Boone, NC

Dennis Scanlin was awarded Wind Powering America's Regional Wind Advocacy Award for the Southeast Region. Dwight Bailey, U.S. Department of Energy Southeast Regional Office, and Larry Flowers, Wind Powering America Technical Director, presented the award.

Q. How did you become involved with wind energy?

A. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I was exposed to the civil rights movement, women's liberation, and the beginnings of the environmental movement, as well as the problems in urban industrial America. I think these influences, along with my parents and some good sisters and priests in suburban Philadelphia, nurtured my interest in working on solutions to the world's problems. My father was a mechanical engineer and was always designing or building something around the house, including a sailboat. So I was exposed to all kinds of interesting technological projects growing up, including the power of the wind.

When I started college in 1970, I was involved in the peace, social justice, and environmental movements. I remember reading EF Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful, Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the Whole Earth Catalogue, and the Mother Earth News, which provided fuel for my growing interests in the concept of appropriate technology and renewable energy technology in particular. I also witnessed the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the two energy crises during the '70s, which further strengthened my interests in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

I had some great college experiences at Penn State and especially West Virginia University, which had a strong focus on the appropriate technology movement during the late '70s and early '80s. In 1984, as I was finishing up my doctoral work at WVU, I was hired by Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, to coordinate an appropriate technology program, which began in 1978. They had just dismantled the 2-megawatt Mod-1 wind turbine, which was the largest wind turbine in the world at the time. The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) wind mapping work showed great wind resources in the Appalachian mountains, so along with solar and hydro, green building, sustainable transportation, water and waste issues and technologies, I began to study and teach our students about wind energy. I had the opportunity to work on several small wind systems in the area. A few years ago, I received funding for several wind-related projects and was asked to assist the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with some of the measurement projects in the region. The opportunity to participate in the introduction of a new technology to the region has been a real adventure and one that I may never recover from.

Q. You were one of the founding members of the North Carolina Wind Working Group (WWG). What were the driving forces behind its formation?

A. Larry Shirley, the director of North Carolina's State Energy Office, contacted me in the fall of 2001 and asked whether I would write a proposal for a wind assessment study, which would be submitted to the DOE. We gathered a team of folks, we all participated in the proposal preparation, and our proposal was accepted. That grant funded the North Carolina state wind map and additional analyses that documented some outstanding wind resources throughout the Appalachian region in western North Carolina and along the coast. I began to share this information at various conferences and meetings throughout the region and in several articles. At the same time, the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, the State Energy Office, and others began to discuss the possibility of producing electricity in North Carolina with wind power. We faced some significant barriers and felt we needed to build a coalition. The wind working group was proposed in 2002, and the Appalachian State Energy Center received some funding to facilitate its formation. Our first meeting was held in conjunction with the state's first Wind Summit in December 2002, and we have kept in touch ever since via e-mail and conference calls.

Q. What activities is the North Carolina WWG currently involved with?

A. The North Carolina Wind Working group members have produced two fact sheets, developed and circulated a petition, and developed a Web site (www.wind.appstate.edu). We've prioritized counties based on the potential for wind energy development and have contacted county officials. We are currently working with one county in western North Carolina to draft a bill that would authorize decisions about wind energy development at the local level. We are planning another conference for fall 2005 and have implemented a small wind initiative, which includes a demonstration facility, anemometer loan program, and the publication of a state small wind guide. Many presentations and several workshops have been given in the region, and numerous articles have been published on the topic. Our recent work involves researching permitting policies throughout the rest of the country so that we can provide the state with information to help guide the development of our wind resources.

Q. Tell us about the small wind initiative at Appalachian State.

A. Our analyses of the North Carolina state wind map indicate that the western counties have almost 1 million acres of land area with Class 2 or higher wind resources, and we estimate that at least 70,000 property owners are in a Class 2 or greater wind resource area. We wanted to install some wind turbines, and we felt that the smaller-scale technology would be less controversial and would introduce the concept of wind energy to the public in a way that might lead to a greater acceptance of larger wind projects.

The initiative also fit well into the design/build philosophy of our Appropriate Technology program and provides the students and the community with a great opportunity to experience the technology and learn how to design, build, and maintain the technologies. The initiative is a collaborative project supported by the North Carolina State Energy Office, TVA, the U.S. DOE, and Appalachian State University. It has several major objectives:

  • Test and demonstrate a variety of commercially available small wind technologies. We currently lease a 5-acre parcel of land on Beech Mountain (5100') and have six operating turbines connected to the grid. The site is open to the public, and it will have educational signage and provide a place for hands-on workshops, as well as turbine research and testing.
  • Provide information and consulting services related to small wind technology to the public and establish a database of performance results for small wind turbines in the region. Our office handles calls and provides information, and we have an outstanding group of dedicated folks who manage our various programs.
  • Identify and contact the owners of land with good wind resources. Using GIS software, we combined the state wind map with county tax map information to identify landowners in Class 3 or greater wind resource areas. We developed a postcard and mailed it to 16,000 families, along with our 2005 workshop series brochure. The postcard provided addresses for companies in the region involved in designing and installing renewable energy equipment, addresses for manufacturers, and our Web site URL and workshop schedule.
  • Operate an anemometer loan program. We currently have five 20-meter towers and NRG explorer data loggers that we loan to interested property owners in the western part of the state.
  • Organize, advertise, and host a series of workshops on small wind technology, using a combination of national and international experts and regional resources. We hosted four workshops in Fall 2004, and we're planning a seven-workshop series for 2005.

Q. Tell us about the North Carolina's Mountain Ridge Protection Act and how it may affect wind energy development over the next five years.

A. The Mountain Ridge Protection Act was passed in 1983 after a 10-story condominium was constructed on a mountain in the region. The law prevents any structures over 40 feet tall from being constructed on mountain ridges over 3,000 feet. Clear exemptions were made for communication and electrical transmission towers, including an ambiguously worded exemption for windmills.

When TVA proposed a wind project on a mountain ridge close to the North Carolina border, Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Attorney General, wrote a letter to TVA stating that the ridge law exemption for windmills did not include a project of this scale. Cooper said that the site could be problematic because it was so close to North Carolina. TVA built the project on Buffalo Mountain instead.

I believe Cooper's interpretation is incorrect, and I hope that the issue will be clarified soon. I've spoken with two of the legislators involved in the creation and passage of the law, and they both believe that the exemption includes all wind energy technologies and that it was directly related to and precipitated by the 2-MW Mod-1 project in Boone, the need for alternative sources of energy, and the early '80s wind-mapping work that showed excellent wind resources in the North Carolina mountains.

A bill has recently been introduced that would allow Ashe County to make its own decisions about wind projects and complete a demonstration project. As soon as the bill was introduced, some groups requested language that would require a pre-construction environmental review, and all parties are currently trying to figure out what that requirement might entail. The wind working group may plan a meeting with the Attorney General to discuss his letter to the TVA and the possibility of revising his opinions regarding wind turbines on North Carolina mountain ridges.

Q. You've performed some surveys in North Carolina about the public's interest in wind. What were the survey results and how can they impact public policy?

A. Dennis Grady, the director of the Appalachian State University Energy Center, performed the surveys. One survey was completed in the western part of the state and another in the coastal region. The complete reports can be found at www.energy.appstate.edu. More than 75% of the respondents for both surveys indicated that we need more wind power in the state. In terms of specific wind development, 79% felt that single wind turbines should not be prohibited on someone's land, 90% supported residential turbines, and 57% supported clusters of wind turbines on mountain ridges (with 27.5% expressing opposition). Wind projects in national forest lands received the lowest percentage of support, with 36% of those surveyed expressing opposition. The survey data show that the majority of North Carolina citizens support wind energy, and we hope this will be useful information for shaping public policy supportive of wind energy in the state.

Q. What other barriers do you see for utility-scale wind in North Carolina?

A. Aside from the ridge law, significant barriers include the large number of second-home owners, large areas of public lands (almost 50% of the utility-scale sites are in public lands), tourism, high land prices, and environmental concerns (especially avian impacts). The limited number of avian studies in the east and the higher-than-average impacts identified in the studies cause concern in the environmental community and will need to be addressed if we are to build a supportive coalition for wind in the state.

Q. Describe the opportunity for small-scale wind turbines in North Carolina.

A. There are tremendous geographical possibilities for small wind turbines in North Carolina, both on the coast and in the mountains. As mentioned previously, almost 1 million acres of land have wind resources adequate for small wind turbines, and more than 70,000 landowners in the 24 mountain counties and along the coast have a good wind resource. The Attorney General's office indicated to us in telephone conversations that single wind turbines could be permitted, but some county building code officials have indicated that they would not permit any turbines on mountain ridges because of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act. So this issue needs to be clarified. Our Small Wind Initiative and the work of the North Carolina Solar Center is attracting a lot of attention, and we receive many inquiries about the technology. If we can continue the demonstration and educational projects for a couple of years, I think we will see significant adoption of the technology throughout the state.

The whole southeastern United States could really benefit from public policy work. North Carolina has an attractive 35% tax credit for all renewables, including wind, and a new statewide green power program, but we could use a good net-metering law and a rebate or buy-down program that would make wind technology even more attractive. The various model zoning ordinances for small wind that have been developed throughout the country will be helpful here as well.

Q. What's your vision for wind energy in North Carolina in 2010-2020?

A. We need more wind turbines. Wind turbines provide something we all need and rely on every day, and they do it cleanly, sustainably, reliably, and affordably. The irrational paranoia that currently exists and the selfishness of the second-home owners who seem to be the primary opponents of wind energy in the state will hopefully be overcome as energy prices rise and air pollution problems worsen.

We have 10,000 MW of geographic potential in the state for wind energy. Our recent economic analyses indicate that for every 100 MW, the state will generate 250 jobs during construction and 45 long-term jobs; $27 million in direct, indirect, and induced statewide economic output; and $7.32 million in wages during construction and several million each year during operation. Every 100 MW of wind power we harness will generate approximately $550,000 per year in annual property tax revenues for the region and as much as $400,000 in lease payments to property owners. These significant and sustainable economic benefits will be hard to ignore in the years to come. North Carolina currently spends $7 billion each year to purchase energy from outside the state. I believe that keeping some of these dollars in the state and supporting locally available, clean, and sustainable energy resources like wind will become increasingly attractive in the years to come.

This information was last updated on August 02, 2011