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More homeowners consider installing turbines to save on energy costs

For Greg Menoche, the low hum coming from his backyard is like money in the bank. The Dagsboro-area man is one of a growing number of Delaware residents turning to small-scale wind power to generate electricity for their homes. ... Businessman Louis Thibault, who lives in a rural area near Millsboro, has won county approval for two windmills, but said he's still sorting through his options to pick the right turbine for his home. "I'm still not totally satisfied with what I've found," he said. "I'm not going to spend $20,000 on a wind generator and when I get it, it doesn't work." Flexera's Light said only a few reputable manufacturers are on the market now, and consumers need to be careful. "The vast majority are frauds," he said. "When there's a buck to be made, you end up having a lot of fly-by-nights out there. ... We research and sometimes get burned ourselves."

For Greg Menoche, the low hum coming from his backyard is like money in the bank.

The Dagsboro-area man is one of a growing number of Delaware residents turning to small-scale wind power to generate electricity for their homes.

Menoche's 33-foot-tall wind turbine, which has been spinning since April, has cut his electricity usage substantially -- a 65 percent drop in his average use for May, the only full month for which he has been billed since he installed it..

"I always wanted one of those old windmills -- clickety-clank old farm-type things," the Southwest Airlines pilot said. "If I'm going to watch something spin, I might as well watch something spin and turn my meter backward."

The Skystream-brand windmill that Menoche has can generate an estimated 400 kilowatt-hours per month with a 12-mph wind speed, according to the manufacturer. The average American household consumes 888 kilowatt hours per month, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Even as the debate and discussion over Bluewater Wind's offshore project continues, homeowners from Milton to Bethany Beach are seeking to set up small windmills, on their roofs or on... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

For Greg Menoche, the low hum coming from his backyard is like money in the bank.

The Dagsboro-area man is one of a growing number of Delaware residents turning to small-scale wind power to generate electricity for their homes.

Menoche's 33-foot-tall wind turbine, which has been spinning since April, has cut his electricity usage substantially -- a 65 percent drop in his average use for May, the only full month for which he has been billed since he installed it..

"I always wanted one of those old windmills -- clickety-clank old farm-type things," the Southwest Airlines pilot said. "If I'm going to watch something spin, I might as well watch something spin and turn my meter backward."

The Skystream-brand windmill that Menoche has can generate an estimated 400 kilowatt-hours per month with a 12-mph wind speed, according to the manufacturer. The average American household consumes 888 kilowatt hours per month, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Even as the debate and discussion over Bluewater Wind's offshore project continues, homeowners from Milton to Bethany Beach are seeking to set up small windmills, on their roofs or on towers.

The market for small-scale wind power is growing, according to the American Wind Energy Association. There were 9,092 wind units sold in 2007, a 14 percent increase over 2006.

Executives with a Sussex County company that sells and installs personal wind turbines attribute part of the growth in Delaware to the state's energy credit program, which can cover part of the cost of installation.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, "a small turbine can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $22,000 installed, depending upon size, application and service agreements with the manufacturer."

"Every day, we have inquiries," said Bob Light, CEO of Millsboro-based Flexera.

In a modern system, wind turbines are connected directly to the grid, without the need for batteries, according to the wind-power trade group. As the wind blows and the blades turn, the amount of power used from the electric utility is decreased.

In much of the country, home-based wind power is still a fledgling industry compared with the more mature solar sector.

Charlie Smisson, Delaware's energy office coordinator, said wind energy still makes up just a small portion of the grant applications.

"There's two or three in Sussex County, there may be a couple up in New Castle County that are working right now or have been paid," he said.

By far the greatest interest is in solar technology, Smisson said.

"When Delmarva Power increased their electric rates a couple years ago, we started to see people interested in solar," he said. "We are now getting many applications for that technology."

In fact, the state is nearing a waiting list for its solar grant program, Smisson said.

Time and money

Bruce Dunham is one of the folks who has adopted the alternative energy mantra. He already has solar panels and a geothermal heating system in place at his Lewes-area home and plans to soon add a roof-mounted windmill.

The retired marketing executive said reducing costs was his biggest incentive to explore renewable energy.

"I could see the writing on the wall that [utilities] were just going to become more and more expensive, something totally out of my control," Dunham said. "Putting in these alternative energy sources put me back in control of my own destiny."

The process can be a daunting one. Dunham said it took him 2 1/2 years of research to select the right systems.

In several of the proposals before Sussex County, neighbors have expressed concerns over safety to birds, property values and noise.

"You've got to fight everybody," Dunham said.

Light, the Flexera CEO, says newer vertical, rectangular blades look like a solid object to birds when they're spinning, and thus pose little danger.

Sussex County Council President Finley B. Jones, D-Greenwood, said the county's rules may need to be relaxed to give homeowners more flexibility.

The cost of going before the county's Board of Adjustment -- required for windmills on sites of five acres or less -- can add several hundred dollars to a project.

Jones met with Flexera representatives earlier this year and has asked the county's land-use consultant to examine the topic.

As wind turbines become smaller and more affordable, more people will want to take advantage of them, Jones said, noting one option might be to institute different rules for rural and more developed areas.

"In a rural area, if you put up a 50-foot tower, nobody's going to say anything -- nobody's going to see it," Jones said. "But if you're in a subdivision, you might get some [complaining]."

Consumer beware

Businessman Louis Thibault, who lives in a rural area near Millsboro, has won county approval for two windmills, but said he's still sorting through his options to pick the right turbine for his home.

"I'm still not totally satisfied with what I've found," he said. "I'm not going to spend $20,000 on a wind generator and when I get it, it doesn't work."

Flexera's Light said only a few reputable manufacturers are on the market now, and consumers need to be careful.

"The vast majority are frauds," he said. "When there's a buck to be made, you end up having a lot of fly-by-nights out there. ... We research and sometimes get burned ourselves."

Thibault hopes eventually to be able to generate enough electricity to sell it back to the power grid.

"I don't want to just cover my electric bill," said Thibault, who owns K&L Sales near Georgetown. "We all need to do something. We're becoming slaves to these other countries that have the oil."

Dennis Heagy, who lives near Lewes, also started with solar and has branched off into wind, with hopes to be installing a unit from Flexera soon.

He's tracking his kilowatt usage and will be calculating each source's input.

An oil refinery retiree, he said researching his options was a challenge.

"It gets a little overwhelming," Heagy said. "There's so many manufacturers of windmills, and there's not a Consumer Reports-type magazine that evaluates them."

He's aiming to have solar and wind cover a third of his power usage.

Brian Lisiewski, Flexera's president, said residents also need to keep in mind their location, with the best areas for wind located near the coast.

Not every area in Delaware is suitable for efficient wind turbines, he said: "We don't have the best state for wind, really."

But those who have adopted renewable energy technologies said they wouldn't change a thing, despite the challenges and sometimes steep learning curve.

Menoche, who hopes to start a side business selling and installing windmills, said he's gotten a lot of great feedback.

"Energy isn't going to go down," he said. "There's also the idea that I'm going to help the environment in some way."

Contact Dan Shortridge at 856-7373 or dshortridge@delawareonline.com.


Source: http://www.delawareonline.c...

JUN 21 2008
http://www.windaction.org/posts/15612-more-homeowners-consider-installing-turbines-to-save-on-energy-costs
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