C'mon Wind!

ooojen(z4MN)April 14, 2006

We're taking a shot at getting a wind powered elec. generator! We've been kicking the idea around for quite a while now, but there has always been something more pressing to do with our money. Now a possible opportunity has presented itself. There's a push to get more wind power into this part of MN (there's a lot used further west), and there are some low interest loans available for qualified folks. It's somewhat of a rare opportunity-- usually the large scale wind farms are the ones to get loans or tax breaks.

Kids at a local college are writing up a proposal as an environmental sciences project. I'm taking wind readings three times a day so they'll have the data available. It seems kind of silly that I'm taking ground-level readings, and we have an evergreen windbreak (a tower would reach above the trees) but I suppose they have some way to adjust for that.

The proposal has to be finished by the end of the month, but I don't know when we'll hear back.

If we qualify, we'll be expected to keep good records, provide lots of feedback, and facilitate other individuals or small groups who are interested in windpower. Wish us luck!

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mingtea(z9 Tucson)

hi jen,

this sounds very exciting! geoff and i drove through a ton of wind power generators as we made our way north through california. i think wind power is an excellent idea. did you hear the story on NPR not too long ago focusing on it? i guess some rural/small town farmers have leased out part of their land to wind farming and it's had its ups and downs...most people who complained about eyesores and those who didn't like the whooshing noise. i've always throught of it as a "green" alternative and say go for it! good luck!


    Bookmark   April 15, 2006 at 11:50PM
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Mentha(9 CA)

Those wind generators can really get going. If we had a lot of wind, I'd be really excited about the possibilities of wind generation. Around here it's solar panels that dot the countryside. The sun is out so strong most summers that with solar panels the electric company has to refund quite a bit to those who have them.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 1:15AM
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The Evansville initiative is a part of this. When our high school was built, a geo-thermal design was used. It was costly but was expected to save the distict in the long run. But costs of energy in our school system remain quite high. Bakers manufacturing, Evansville, Wi. was a big wind mill producer back in the old days. The Evansville Energy Initiative hope to "brand" our community as a leader in windustry-but so far, not many wind mills are popping up. But our school has been doing wind studies. There is a rest stop off of highway 39 between Rockford and Bloomington Illinois that has a wind farm near it. Those big blades quietly spinning around always capture my attention.

Sounds like a great project to take on. Do you have any idea about how many windmills you will have?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 10:41AM
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Ming- I didn't catch the NPR program, but I have heard a little about the subject. We looked into it a couple years back, and found the local power company to be less than accommodating. In order to sell any extra electricity, we'd have to put in a cable, at our own expense, to their nearest relay station, or whatever it's called. It's almost 5 miles. Getting permission from everybody in between, and paying for that much cable laying...forget it!
I hadn't thought about the whooshing noise! It's pretty windy here a lot of the time, and we have a big evergreen windbreak, as I mentioned, so we get a lot of that noise anyway. There's a road that goes past in front of our house, and we're on a hill, so you can't see approaching vehicles until they're fairly close-- especially from one direction. There's not much traffic on the road, but what does go by often goes faster than it should. When you can hear vehicles approaching, it's a little safer (especially thinking of pets and little DD). I suppose we'd be small enough scale that it wouldn't be too loud.
The eyesore factor-- DH spent his first few years in a nasty old ugly run-down house before his folks saved up and built a new one. They jacked the old place up, dragged it across the road, and MOL gutted it to use it as a machine shelter. It's a major eyesore. DH agreed that we'd get rid of it when he got a new machine shed. We've had TWO machine sheds put up, and still the old house stays. I think he has a little sentimental attachment to it. We'd have a really nice view out the front of the house if not for it---but it's butt-ugly and dominates the view from the living room, kitchen (incl. dining area) and study windows. Now, if we get this wind generator, it's going in pretty close to where the old house stands, and we'd finally have to get rid of the latter!! As far as the view goes, a wind generator would be the lesser of two evils by far!
(BTW- the old house doesn't have cool old stuff in it, but it nevertheless attracts "explorers" like you wouldn't believe. We've put up "No Trespassing" signs, but I still worry a little about liability as there's part of the second story floor kinda-sorta intact. It might not hold up if somebody goes stomping around up there. I'd worry more about safety for others than liability if there were kids around, but the "explorers" are mostly would-be antique thieves.)

Mentha-- I bet solar panels are great out there! You probably have peak energy use about the same time you have peak sunshine, huh?
They told us to expect a wind generator to pay for itself (with reduced elec costs and extra energy sold back to the power co.) in about 10 years. I don't expect it to be a big money-maker in the near future, but it's a good concept, and I'd love to see it developed more.

Diane-- I'll look over the link when I finish posting. Thanks- that'll be interesting.
For the time being, we're just looking into one smallish structure. They're very expensive, even at that. If it helps the project go through, we'd said we could put up two, with an interested neighbor (on slightly lower land) investing in the second one (on our property).

We recently visited (for HS-graduating DD's sake) a private MN college that has a large wind-powered generator of its own. It provides about half the energy for the entire school! It was a students' initiative, and they had to do a lot of work (& research) to get faculty approval. I thought it was pretty darned cool!
Funny thing-- we visited another similar size & type college in a Midwestern "red" state. They said they were a really green school, but I guess "green" is quite relative. The previous school had trash receptacles for sorting recyclable good, signs requesting that lights be turned off when the last person left the room, the afore-mentioned wind-powered generator, etc. The other schools' idea of "green" was that they hardly had any student parking!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 1:38PM
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fishies(Ottawa z4a or 5)

No student parking... now THAT'S going green :)

How long do you think it'll take for the assessment to be finished, Jen? I bet you can't wait for this to get off the ground.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 10:11AM
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I was able to spend six weeks in Denmark the fall of 1977. I was 21 years old. I stayed at a little cottage next to the Ocean. There was a modern day windmill on a farm about a hundred yards away. Denmark has a plethora of old-fashioned windmills. It was the first time I have seen a modern windmill. As far as an eyesore, maybe I was more fascinated by it than critically critiquing its looks. It was amazing how little wind it took to get that thing to move. I remember one foggy night where there was just a slight breeze and I mean really slight. I could still here the blades whoshing in the fog. I was really impressed. I inquired about the windmill because I was so fascinated by it. I understood that most of the time the windmill produced all of the electricity for the farm. I think he had a milk cow operation. On windy days this farmer was able to sell the excess electricity back to the power company.

I understand that Denmark was one of the leaders in wind energy research back then and that many of the windmills used in this country were purchased from Danish companies. I think it is great if you can get this windmill. Needless to say you'll be doing your part in pioneering private utilization of wind energy. This is really the way to go in this country. I'm curious. May I ask if one can get any kind of government subsidy to help with such an endeavor? I sure hope so.

Definitely keep us posted on the progress of this project. I'm very interested in what happens.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 11:05AM
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I should read more closely. You did say that you will be able to get a low interest loan. At least you can get a little help.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 11:08AM
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Ah, Larry, you kind of caught me out ;) There are some subsidies available in addition to the loans; how much will depend on the work the college students do preparing their data, and the depth of the pockets of the Powers that Be. I felt a little guilty not mentioning it, but I also felt pretty guilty mentioning it, after I'd just said on another thread that it bothered me how many people thought farmers were just raking off the govt. (Unfortunately, a few of the big guys do...a few of the "family farms" with 100 employees...but that's getting awfully close to a Hot Topics-type thread, and we've proven we don't need that here, eh?) Now I'm back, admitting to having my hand out-- lol! Seriously, though, if we get financial help on it, we will be expected to do some work in return. We'll have to keep careful records and have them available, to continue to work with the university to make the project an ongoing educational one for the environmental sciences students there, and as I said before, to facilitate other people in getting their own wind-power projects going...maybe give some talks to groups...I don't know what all, but I'm ready to give it my best.

The way I understand it (and there's plenty I don't understand!), if you're small enough scale, the local power company is obligated to buy any extra electricity you generate at a rate close to what the consumer pays. However, if you produce more than "X" amount (fairly small), you have to negotiate your own contract with the power co. Obviously, if we put up a wind farm and the Co-op had to buy the power at a rate at or close to "retail", they'd go under, and none of us want that to happen. On the other hand, when you're thinking green, a larger unit is more desirable. We've got a heck of a potential up here! We could easily (but for the investment costs!) provide power for everyone for many miles around us. But it's intimidating to think of negotiating a contract with the power co. ourselves. If they're not obligated to buy in, what if they won't, or won't pay enough for us to pay off the incurred debt? We'd be in deep stuff money-wise. I mean, there aren't alternative buyers. We can't run our own wires all over the countryside. So, we'll probably stay small so we don't risk going broke over it.
Shelly- the students have to have their work turned in before May 1, but they don't know when they'll hear back. They're hoping it'll be before school is out, but they don't know for sure.
Larry- Denmark has some really great stuff going on! I didn't know windpower was in everyday use there back in the 70's, but it doesn't really surprise me, either.
I remember seeing a news short on Denmark's recycling program years back. They had standardized glass bottles and jars for the food products packaged and sold within the country. When they recycled, they used the same bottles and jars, washed and sterilized them, checked for chips or cracks, and re-used the same containers (like they used to do with Coke bottles here.) It takes a fraction of the energy that it would to grind up the glass and form new containers. How eminently sensible that is!

I'm pretty stoked about this project! I do feel a little trepidation, too, though (besides the investment cost issue). I keep remembering a picture Jeff posted about what happened when the brake failed on one of those gigantic units...bits of blade thrown about the countryside. I can envision them flying through our windows...gotta be sure to keep the bearings oiled and all that :)

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 1:54PM
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jeffrey_harris(San Diego, CA)

Dear Ooojen,

That is marvelous news - I'm happy for you and hope that it (both the turbine itself and the financing) will work out for you.

I know there are several wind farms in MN, and even for your area , the wind resource is pretty good.

Some folks have and continue to view them as eyesores, but I am thinking mostly of the giant wind turbines (one of which is pictured below).

It's a tough sell - people, particularly those in government and old-time (read carbon fuel) energy production really need to think outside the box. True, wind energy isn't 100% reliable - when the wind doesn't blow, there isn't any production from a turbine. But it, along with solar and other green sources of energy, cangreatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil supplies and can produce electricity that will ensure a cleaner environemnt than one that can be had from power coming from conventionally-powered sources.

I believe MN is one of the states that has/will have a requirement to buy back power from surplus production by residents with wind turbines and the like. I am hopeful your utility will do this - every little bit helps.

Yes, mistakes and accidents can happen, but the pic that you refer to was a result of extraordinary circumstances. Not exactly like the Exxon Valdez or Three Mile Island, though.

Pictured below is a turbine from our latest (and biggest) project. Yes, it's like sugar cookies, in that it is Danish (they make some of the best ones).

Some statistics:

It's as tall (at the hub) as a 24-story building - 257 feet / 78 m

Each blade is 129 feet / 39m long

When the wind is blowing at 14 meters per second (about 31 miles per hour), it will produce 18,000 kilewatts of power per hour.

The project (67 of these turbines) is certainly occupying a great deal of our time here, but it's a labor of love....mostly.

Once again, congrats and best wishes on this - if it works, just think of all of the Aloes that can live in the greenhouse that will be heated by the wind turbine(s)!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 4:44PM
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shoot, I couldn't see the picture. It all sounds exciting. One great big windmill does seem more appealing then a whole wind farm. I do love windmills!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 7:23PM
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jeffrey_harris(San Diego, CA)

Dear All,

Sorry the pic is so large - that sholdn't have been that way.


Unless you don't mind losing money on the deal, it's not economically feasible to erect one utility-sized wind turbine.

Hope you can see this one:

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 10:01AM
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You know, I really wish we could have utility-sized. It just makes sense from an environmental standpoint - one big unit is better than several small ones. We've got at least one neighbor who'd co-op in (probably more would if it got going) but the hang up is that if your unit's more than 40KW the power co still has to buy extra, but they can name the price. I don't know whether there's a guaranteed minimum, but I'm guessing they'd make it take a long, long time to recoup one's investent...about the time the turbine needed a complete overhaul...
For a utility sized unit in our neck o' the woods, you're looking at an investment of a million five to three mil, so we're told. If you farm, you have to be a bit of a gambler/risk-taker, but that's a little much for us to put on the table!
Neat picture, Jeff! I don't think of them as ugly -- they give me a positive Pavlovian reaction (I don't drool; I smile inside) thinking of what they represent.
Excellent point about broken blades not holding a candle to other power-related accidents!
I gave the kids the data they needed, and now it's out of our hands. They're going to email of copy of what they wrote up (hopefully soon; school's almost out).

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 11:25AM
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jeffrey_harris(San Diego, CA)

Dear OooJen,

You were told correctly about the price - they're averaging about $1000 a kilowatt, but there's it's definitely a seller's market now, so the price per unit keeps going up.

Rots of ruck on the proposal!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 2:57PM
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fishies(Ottawa z4a or 5)

I'm with you, Jen - every time Jeffrey posts a photo of one of these turbines, I think to myself how pretty they are. They're really elegant.

Imagine them in a soft blue or PINK! pretty, pretty...

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 10:35AM
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Went by the wind farm on hwy 39 between Rockford and Bloomington. Just wondering how things are going with your project, Gen.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2006 at 5:35PM
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