Will urban wind turbines power Portland’s future?

Will urban wind turbines power Portland’s future? »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – A wind turbine is turning heads at City Hall and similar machines could soon dot rooftops around town.

Wind farms usually bring to mind mega-windmills like the ones in the Columbia River Gorge. But what if Portland were to become a gigantic wind farm of its own? Not like the massive windmills in the Gorge, but like the one in front of Mayor Sam Adam’s office (pictured above).

The turbine outside the mayor’s office weighs about 20 pounds and was made out of scrap metal by Brad Malsin’s company, Oregon Wind.

Malsin said that wind energy can begin to be produced with three to five mile an hour winds.

 “[They are] a little different from a solar panel where you put it on a roof and can’t see it from the street,” Malsin said. “This is a very kinetic active demo of your commitment to sustainability.”

 In addition to being designed to fit on rooftops, they could also be placed on streetlights, and designers say the turbines could generate enough electricity in a year to offset about 10 percent of a family’s power use.

Before city residents can place these wind turbines on their roofs, the city needs to change its zoning laws. It’s considering doing so and the City Council could vote on a change to the law in the fall.

“We’re in an environment now where you can have these small-scale systems on rooftops or in yards and be creating energy with little impact on surrounding areas,” said Eric Engstrom of Portland Planning and Sustainability.

Beyond aesthetics there may be an unintended consequence that concerns David Kliewer of Portland Environmental Services.

 “What we’ve been seeing with larger wind farms in Eastern Oregon and Washington is bird strikes,” he said.

That possibility will be studied with turbines at Southwest 12th and Washington.