Tom Sineath is a couple years ahead of the curve. CEO of T.S. Designs in Burlington, N.C., Sineath installed a wind turbine on his site five years ago to supplement the company's solar array and serve as an example to others.
"Tax incentives — along with supporting our mission as a company — made sense for us," Sineath said.
There are no large wind farms in North Carolina, and there probably won't be for a while, but individual wind turbines are becoming an everyday sight for many in the state. Thanks to increased education and government funds, turbines are starting to show up at schools, farms, homes and businesses throughout North Carolina.
Sineath's investment in wind energy is especially remarkable because his business is located in Burlington. Wind resources are sparse in the Piedmont, and Sineath said his site is only good because they are on high ground above any nearby trees.
This concentration of energy in certain parts of the state has been a big obstacle to development, said Bob Leker, renewable energy program manager for the N.C. Energy Office. "There's significant potential at the coast and in the mountains," he said, "but there's really not much in the way of consistent wind resources in the middle of the state."
Even in the normally windier areas, Leker said, the wind strength still varies widely. "It's so highly dependent on the site," he said.
"A lot of times the people that would most like to have wind resources on their property are not the same people that have a really good wind resource," said Matt Allenbaugh, research assistant at the Wind Application Center at Appalachian State University.
Allenbaugh works at ASU with the N.C. Small Wind Initiative, which provides a local educational resource to people and groups across the state who might be interested in small-scale wind power. The program offers classes and often lends out tools for assessing wind resources in different areas.
More than eleven schools in North Carolina have installed turbines and incorporated wind energy into their curriculum since the program started, Allenbaugh said. The ASU initiative offered technological and educational support, and the federal Wind for Schools program paid for many of the turbines.
There's a lot more room for development this way, too, as almost 190 schools in the state have at least some kind of wind resource, and around 50 have more significant potential, said Allenbaugh.
Now is a better time than ever for going into small-scale wind energy production, said Michael French, marketing manager for Southwest Windpower, the manufacturer who produced the wind turbine for T.S. Designs.
According to data from ASU's Wind Energy program, the state currently offers 35 percent tax credits for wind energy systems, and the non-profit N.C. GreenPower is available to pay producers for excess wind at an excellent rate.
French said that wind energy can provide savings on energy bills, "but most of our customers are motivated by a desire for some measure of energy independence or an interest in sustainable 'green' technology.
"Business owners may choose wind power because it is highly visible and gives them a way to separate the business from competitors," French said.
Dennis Scanlin, professor in the ASU Department of Technology and a coordinator of the Small Wind Initiative, said that more and more people are starting to get interested in wind energy. "We have lots of interest; thousands of people contact us every year looking for information," Scanlin said.
The expansion of wind energy in North Carolina has been slow, but the state's citizens have decided they're tired of waiting, and now they're the ones leading the way.