Why install a $28,000 turbine on a short tower and lose 25% or more of its potential energy production to save $2,750, which is roughly 5% of the overall system cost? Spending that additional $2,750 up front yields an estimated additional 62,880 KWH over a 20-year turbine life span. Here in my neck of the woods, that has a value of $11,318. And that's at our current utility rate of $0.18 per KWH, which I'm pretty sure will increase over time!

A low-cost, small-diameter turbine on a short tower may be a small investment, but it will only yield a small amount of electricity each month. And you won't be any further ahead with a larger turbine installed on a short tower, since you may be sacrificing a large percentage of the turbine's potential energy production, and increasing maintenance costs.

At some point, of course, the law of diminishing returns usually asserts itself and the tower choice becomes clear. And don't forget about zoning or height restrictions, which can be a limiting factor in many areas. Of course, the final factor is the budget for the project. The bottom line for most folks seems to be maximum bang for minimum bucks. So, yes, there is such a thing as too tall a tower, for economic reasons. But other than the money, you'll just keep improving a wind turbine's performance by going higher.

Roy Butler • Four Winds Renewable Energy

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