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Quiet wind-turbine comes to U.S. homes

Part of growing variety of small wind machines, this turbine can turn out 1.5 kilowatts and is suitable for home roofs.

Updated on February 6, 2009 with a correction. The original misstated the measurement for the company's technical specifications. It should be 14 meter per second wind, which is 31 miles per hour.

A home wind turbine already installed at 250 sites in Scotland is now being sold across the pond.

Cascade Engineering said Monday the Swift wind turbine, for homes and other buildings, is available in the U.S. and Canada.

Cascade Engineering

The Swift tries to set itself apart from existing small wind turbines with a design that reduces noise. Also, the turbine can be attached to a home, rather than to a free-standing pole or tower.

Like other wind turbines, the Swift has blades that turn and power a generator. But rather than the typical three blades, the Swift has five and a ring that goes around them. That "outer diffuser" ring cuts the noise level to 35 decibels and reduces vibration, according to the company.

The turbine, with a 7-foot diameter, also has two fins to direct the turbine to face the wind. It can turn 360 degrees and shut down if the wind is too high.

It can generate 1.5 kilowatts with 31 mile-per-hour wind (or 14 meters per second) and about 2,000 kilowatt-hours over a year, the company said. U.S. households typically consume between 6,500 and 10,000 kilowatt-hours in a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At a cost of $10,000 installed, it's a bit lower than the typical per-watt cost of solar electric panels. But state rebates, the cost of electricity, and the wind or solar resource make a big difference on the actual up-front cost. Cascade estimates the payback on the upfront cost can be as low as three years, but that it varies widely.

Cascade Engineering

Small wind recently benefited from the extension of renewable energy tax credits, which gives consumers a $1,000 tax credit for residential systems and $4,000 for commercial buildings.

Cascade, which is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has installed 9 Swift turbines in the U.S. and has a backlog of 25 orders, according to Jessica Lehti, the company's senior product marketing manager.

The mix of customers is spit in half between residential and commercial customers. Even with the economic downturn, the company expects that it can sell to customers who purchase renewable energy products for both economic and environmental reasons.

Cascade, which specializes in plastics, has partnered with the Scotland-based Renewable Devices, which originally designed the Swift. Cascade is selling the product in the U.S.

The company says the turbine is best suited for places with average winds and needs to be placed two feet above the roofline.