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Some at UI want stimulus money for wind-energy development

BY ANNA LOTHSON | FEBRUARY 20, 2009 7:34 AM

With the federal economic-stimulus plan allocating more than $40 billion for energy projects, some at the UI are waiting to see how much funding wind energy will receive.

Following the trend of investing in sustainable forms of energy, Joseph Sulentic, a UI lecturer in management and organizations, created a small consumer wind-turbine business, offering opportunities for home and small business owners to possess personal wind systems to generate electricity and allow them to lower their energy bills.

And it comes with financial perks.

Under a federal investment tax credit passed in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, owners of the small turbines can receive up to a $4,000 credit.

Sulentic, who has an economic and entrepreneurial background, said that as a fervent environmentalist, he wanted to get involved with the greener side of business.

“I chose wind because the input costs never varies — it’s always free,” he said.

Sulentic said the new stimulus plan will without a doubt help the industry.

But he has concerns about whom it will help — average consumers or large corporations?

“It’s 1,000 pages, and we’re still trying to figure it out,” he said, noting that energy subsidies will have a major role in furthering wind-energy investment.

“If wind power or anything solar that doesn’t produce a detrimental side effect were factored into its costs, then I think you would see solar power and wind turbines everywhere,” he said.

Implementing a carbon tax on such items as coal-fired power plants would make wind technology more competitive, he said.

“We could seriously make a huge dent in the carbon footprint with the technology that exists today,” Sulentic said.

Craig Just, a UI associate research scientist in civil-environmental engineering, said alternative-energy projects often suffer when the price of oil is low, and consumer demand for cheaper options often influences support.

Iowa, he said, a place with many rural areas, is an excellent place for both wind farms and individual wind turbines.

But in urban areas, he said, the turbines will not be as effective, so wind farms are an optimal solution to transmit power across the state.

Sulentic, however, said too much attention has been given to corporate wind farms, giving fewer opportunities for individual producers.

“We’re much better off from an energy-policy standpoint to have million of producers putting little bits of energy as opposed to giant nuclear facilities or wind farms cranking hundreds of thousands of volts through power lines,” Sulentic said.

Daniel Rogge, a UI graduate student in industrial engineering who made a wind turbine for a class last year, said the way the country generates power is unsustainable.

He hopes the stimulus package will help the country catch up with other nations, such as Germany, and offer more incentives to encourage individuals to care about more energy options.

“Not to say there aren’t problems with wind energy, but it’s the closest to being cost-competitive,” he said.


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