After passing the nation's largest solar incentive last month, San Francisco is now turning to small-wind power.
Mayor Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued an executive order to city departments to fast-track permitting for small-wind projects.
Newsom and county Supervisor Tom Ammiano also have gathered a 20-member task force and 12 technical advisers to figure out how best to encourage the development of more urban wind-power projects.
"Everybody's doing solar now; it's exciting," Newsom said. "But wind hasn't gotten to that level."
While the largest wind turbines today can produce more than 7 megawatts of power, small-wind systems have capacities of less than 100 kilowatts. In some cases, the capacities are counted in mere watts. Advocates say small-wind power can be cheaper than solar power in some places, but so far, installations have remained a tiny - albeit growing - part of the wind market (see Small Wind Hits an Updraft).
Small-wind systems accounted for less than 0.3 percent of U.S. wind installations in 2006, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That's after the market grew more than fivefold in two years to reach 37 megawatts of new capacity and $117.2 million that year.
The task force hopes to further boost small wind. The group, made up of wind companies, environmentalists, engineers and others, met for the first time Wednesday.
Newsom said the task force is working to change zoning to encourage wind projects, and could well end up proposing an incentive program.
"I think that's exactly the path this task force is going to lead to - incentivizing wind," he said.
Johanna Partin, renewable-energy program manager for San Francisco, said the city already has installed four pilot projects -- a 2.5-kilowatt system at the Randall Museum in the Mission district and three far smaller turbines on two buildings in Bernal Heights and the Castro -- within the last year.
It is testing a vertical-axis wind turbine on nearby Treasure Island, and is hoping to work with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory across San Francisco Bay to create a testing facility for rooftop-scale wind, she said.
The city has already approved permits for two other pilot projects, which haven't yet been installed, and is testing the wind at 27 sites to potentially develop more, she said.
The wind-monitoring information will help map the city's wind resources, she said. The city plans to turn its solar map into a renewable map, and hopes to add wind to the map by the end of the year.
"It's different from solar, because you know how much sun you get, but wind totally depends on the structures around you," she said.
San Francisco is pursuing small-wind power because it doesn't have powerful enough wind for large wind farms on land, Partin said.
"We don't have medium-wind resources, we have micro-wind resources, so that's what we're looking at," she said. "We're looking at whatever technologies can harness the resources we have in San Francisco.
However, the city also is working to develop offshore wind, such as off the coast of Ocean Beach, which could result in much larger wind projects, she said.
Meanwhile, San Francisco has received fewer than 10 applications, requesting a total of about $2,500, so far for its solar-incentive program, according to city staff. Some installers had expected the incentive to fill up quickly and to reach its cap as early as the end of this month (see Solar Installers Race for SF Subsidies).
But the small size so far doesn't indicate a lack of interest. There's a lag time because applicants have to take a few steps before they can officially apply, Partin said.
Also Thursday, Newsom said he plans to switch all 50,000 of the city's streetlights to light-emitting diodes, starting with City Hall and other city centers. The initiative is part of a program, rolled out two weeks ago, to improve energy efficiency.
While a number of cities, including San Francisco, already have LED programs, they've all been limited to a small scale so far. San Francisco, for example, has installed LED lights in two areas in the city, he said.
"OK, that's better than a lot of cities, but it's hardly a [full] implementation of the technology," he said, adding that the city expects to be the first to replace so many lights with LEDs.
The city also is pursuing a ban of T12 fluorescent bulbs.
"We've moved beyond the incandescent/fluorescent debate and are now looking to ban the most inefficient types of fluorescent bulbs," Newsom said. "No other cities are looking to ban T12s."
The city originally had hoped to get the prohibition in place in 2009, but now expects it will happen in 2010, said Kathleen Hannon, an environmental specialist with the city.
Other green initiatives include one to replace half of the city's parking meters with solar-powered meters, a program which began in June, and a plan to install wind- and solar-powered bus shelters, which Newsom spokesman Brian Purchia said he expects will roll out within the next year.
San Francisco also plans to equip the parking meters with plugs to deliver free power to plug-in hybrids once they're commercially available, Newsom said.
The city is working on several ways to become the most fertile market for plug-in hybrids, which some companies, including General Motors, plan to bring to the market in 2010, said Wade Crowfoot, director of climate-protection initiatives for San Francisco.
"We're trying to become the first city or region in America to do this," Newsom said, adding that he would love to get to the top of Project Better Place's list. "We're desperately seeking their attention."
Project Better Place plans to create a global network of battery-replacement and recharging stations, starting with Israel. The company, founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, also announced an eyebrow-raising $200 million in capital in October.
San Francisco is too small to attract the company on its own, and while the region is the right size, it's more difficult to work with decision makers spread out over a whole region than to work with a single country or state, Newsom said. He added he's heard the state of Hawaii has passed San Francisco on Project Better Place's list.
In other transportation news, Newsom hinted the city plans to announce some biodiesel news soon, but wouldn't disclose further details.
"We want to be the model for biofuels in America," he said. "We're taking a good idea with unintended consequences and tweaking it instead of throwing it all out. ... We can learn from our mistakes."
Meanwhile, San Francisco has passed new green-building standards that analysts have described as the strictest in the country, and the mayor expects to sign them into law in the first week of August, if the Board of Supervisors approves them.
Newsom also is continuing to pursue a carbon tax, which he had previously hoped voters would approve in November (see Gavin Newsom: ‘We're Still Playing in the Margins'). The tax, which would replace the payroll tax, didn't get enough of a consensus to appear on the ballot this year, he said, but the city is putting together a task force to get the measure on the ballot next year.
The mayor said the country still needs to think outside the box about the environment and called the current mentality "boring."
"It's just a sort of stale, dull rhetoric," he said. "We've got to change. This is small - it's not going to change the world, but hopefully it will [begin to change] the rhetoric. All these little things start adding up to more than the sum of their parts."
Instead of war, "the issue uniting the planet now is global warming," he said.