Should Wind Power San Francisco?

Everyone loves green power. But are wind turbines the answer for a city draped in fog?

A few years ago, it seemed like DIY wind turbines were going to be the next big thing for the Bay Area. The owner of one B&B boasted that her accommodations were entirely powered by sailboat fuel, and several heroic homeowners were outfitting their homes with oversized pinwheels in an effort to harness the non-stop chill that makes this the city of cute sweaters and icy toes.

In fact, a few years ago, there was a flurry of news stories about locals scrappily harnessing the wind, and cutest-mayor-ever Gavin Newsom created an Urban Wind Task Force to explore how the city could embrace a breezier future.

But when one local "show house" was revealed to have an extension cord running into a nearby home, many became disenchanted with wind power. So is it feasible, or just a lot of hot air?

According to Danielle Murray of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the city's explorations into this type of power were disappointing. "Most people overestimate how windy it is around their house because the wind is highest when most of us leave for work and come home," she says. "What we perceive as a high wind – even though we feel like we're getting blown over – doesn't automatically translate to a good, productive, efficient wind for a turbine."

For instance, she says, one sign that a site has the right kind of wind to power a turbine is the trees: Are they permanently bent from all the whooshing? If not, you're probably in possession of a wimpy wind, regardless of what your bad hair days seem to be telling you.

For a home wind turbine to work, you need: (a) Unobstructed space around the turbine, so you don't get spazzy wind; (b) A wind turbine that's certified safe by a third party and "warrantied for safety and performance, which, frankly, is very hard to find if you're talking about anything smaller than ranch-sized," says Murray. The main problem is that if that turbine is lashed to your house and there's a wind it can't handle, guess what goes down with the turbine. Not good.

There is one at the Randall Museum, an adorable free kids' museum with, you know, stray rescued chickens and crows and a tortoise, plus a train set. But "it's older, and mostly there for education," Murray says.

But solar power's pointless in a city known for its fog, right? Oh. So wrong, Murray says. "San Francisco has only 10 percent less solar power potential than L.A.," she points out. "Solar power will pay you back hand over hand. Wind power – well, I wouldn't put my money on it."

Well, that explains the proliferation of solar panels all over the city, and the distinct lack of windmills. Poor Don Quixote. He has a sad.


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