Wind Turbine Certification and Incentive Eligibility

The growth of distributed wind is often tied to federal, state, and utility incentives and rebates. Independent certification by SWCC has been identified as a pathway to eligibility for numerous incentives, and several programs are beginning to require certification.

In order to promote confidence that small and medium wind turbines installed with public assistance and ratepayer funding have been tested for safety, function, performance and durability, and to establish consistency in  wind turbine ratings, SWCC advises agencies to transition to offering wind incentives only for turbines that are certified to AWEA 9.1 – 2009 or relevant sections of IEC 61400 by an independent certification body such as the SWCC.

In January 2015, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-4 providing new performance and quality requirements for small wind turbines – defined as having a nameplate capacity of up to 100 kW – in order to qualify for the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

Effective February 2, 2015, the guidance requires qualifying manufacturers to show that their wind turbines meet the requirements of either: (1) American Wind Energy Association Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard 9.1-2009 (AWEA); or (2) International Electrotechnical Commission 61400-1, 61400-12, and 61400-11 (IEC). Certification is the best way to show compliance to the requirements and must be issued by an eligible certifier, including SWCC. Documentation establishing that the wind turbine meets the new requirements must be provided to taxpayers in order to claim the tax credit.

Certification Requirements
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) requires certification either by SWCC or other independent certifying agency, an EN45011 accredited international organization, or a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory for wind turbines that are not already on their approved list to qualify for rebates.

Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy and Energy Trust of Oregon helped lead the way to require certification for small wind turbines to qualify for incentives. Energy Trust of Oregon began requiring certification from SWCC or other independent, accredited certification body as of May 2012.

For wind turbines with a swept area greater than 200 square meters, the Energy Trust and other agencies require certification to applicable sections of IEC 61400-1 or IEC 61400-2 from an accredited, independent certification body, such as Germanischer Lloyd, along with a full technical review including documentation of performance, safety and durability, including reported production demonstrating reliable operation (12 months of wind speed data coupled with monthly energy production information maintaining operational availability of at least 90%) of that model of equipment at retail installation in North America with annual average wind speeds of at least 12 mph at hub height and an owner/operator who is available for interview.

Additional documentation of performance, safety and durability may also be required. Listed turbines may also be removed for safety, durability, performance, acoustic or warranty service concerns, or for any other reasonable reason at agencies’ sole discretion.

SWCC’s Certification Policy describes grounds for sanction and corrective action. If a deficiency or violation is found, the SWCC Certification Commission has a list of possible actions it can take ranging from private or public reprimand to certification revocation. Likewise, incentive program staff are often authorized to rescind eligibility for products experiencing failures or poor operational performance, reliability, or warranty support, or for other concerns.

Qualification for Certified Turbines
Wisconsin was one of the leaders when it established a provisional incentive for small wind turbines that are pending certification. Many states are following the lead of Wisconsin, Oregon, and New York in making plans to require certification for small and medium wind turbines to qualify for incentives.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) now requires either SWCC certification or NYSERDA qualification, and intends to rely primarily on the SWCC certified turbine list in the near future. Programs in Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont have indicated their intention to follow suit.

In a 2006 SWCC survey, numerous state and utility incentive program managers indicated that certification could help expand their programs for small wind turbines. More than half of the states, utilities, and funding agencies with existing requirements for small wind turbines that responded to the SWCC survey indicated that they expect to use certification to supplement or replace their existing procedures.

Historically, several states, including Colorado, Massachusetts and Vermont relied on the NYSERDA list to qualify small wind turbines for incentive programs. As more turbines have become certified, program managers have simplified the qualification procedures by adopting certification by SWCC or other accredited certification body as a means for eligibility.

Many incentive managers are eager to incorporate SWCC certification requirements into their programs, noting that improving the reliability of performance estimates is a significant step towards increasing customer adoption of wind technology.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office (WWPTO) also recommends turbine certification as a means of consumer and stakeholder protection. WWPTO encourages that public funds be provided only for wind turbines that have been tested and certified for safety, function, performance, and durability. The DOE memorandum on Quality Assurance through Wind Turbine Certification Requirements can be found here:

Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule for the 2015 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), only commercially available technologies are considered eligible for funding. The definition of commercially available technologies now applies to certification standards that are acceptable to the Agency from a recognized industry organization such as the Small Wind Certification Council. More information about key changes to REAP for 2015 can be found here:

Timing Considerations
Testing a wind turbine to the requirements of the AWEA or IEC Standards usually takes at least 6 months due to the requirements of the Duration Test. Depending on the wind regime in which the test facility is located, testing and reporting can take as long as a year to complete. Structural analysis can be performed in parallel with field testing. Depending on the quality of the test reports and the level of issue resolution required, SWCC certification is expected to take approximately 2-4 months after submission of test reports and a full application. The structural analysis of the wind turbine can be performed in parallel with the field testing.

For medium wind turbines, the testing period for power and acoustics is considerably shorter. Testing and reporting may take several months to complete. The SWCC certification process is expected to take approximately 2 months once test reports are received.

Independence of SWCC
SWCC is an independent, accredited non-profit organization with the public purpose of providing this certification service. A three-member Certification Commission makes all certification decisions. The Commissioners are qualified and independent industry experts appointed by the Board of Directors and must file disclosure statements to ensure that they do not have any conflicts of interest. The Board of Directors includes three directors (out of 11) who represent the industry sector.  SWCC Bylaws and operating procedures are designed so the Board has no involvement in individual certification decisions.

For more information
SWCC can provide tailored recommendations and options for consideration to aid incentive programs in transitioning to distributed wind certification requirements. SWCC’s Incentive Programs webpage provides information about several programs requiring or expecting to require certification, and the Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) has current information on dozens of state and utility policies for wind incentive programs.

Note: the discussion above is not intended to encompass all issues related to wind programs. Incentive managers, consumer advocates and other stakeholders are encouraged to contact SWCC staff with any questions or for further information about eligibility criteria, including suggestions for wind turbines with a swept area of more than 200 square meters and therefore outside the scope of IEC 61400-2 or AWEA 9.1 – 2009 Standards. We are happy to work with incentive programs to ensure that certification requirements are appropriate, independent and rigorous.