By MAGGIE SCHUETTE-VOSS
A hundred feet in the air the propellers of the wind turbines hum.
It's not an every day occurrence, but when the wind kicks up to 12 miles per hour, the motors on Jerry Bebo's three wind turbines start up, giving the propellers a boost. At 59 rotations per minute (RPM) the motor shuts down and the turbines are on their own.
Wind power is an idea that Jerry has been toying with for 20 years. He's been trying to make it work for the past two, putting in "more hours than I want to think about," he said.
Around Memorial Day the turbines were ready to generate power. Bebo figures he'll know in a year how well his project works.
Just getting the turbines and towers to Bebo's home on Flower Ave. near Sherman Station was a saga in itself. It was supposed to be a turn-key operation - everything in a nice, complete package.
The man Jerry was going to purchase the turbines from had already negotiated a contract with NSP (Northern States Power) and the package deal looked good.
Looks are deceiving. The man whom Bebo was supposed to purchase the equipment from went "belly up," leaving Bebo with a lot of unfinished plans.
But Bebo persisted and got the contract with NSP. The electricity generated goes into two transformers and NSP pays Bebo 7.5 cents per kilowatt. It is used by Bebo and other NSP customers. If Bebo uses more electricity than he generates, he pays NSP.
He has sunk his own money into the operation - $50,000 for each turbine which he purchased used. The turbines were trucked in from Palm Desert, Calif. The turbine control panel was purchased in Oklahoma, then wired on-site.
The towers, at 13,000 pounds each, were put up two years ago. Fourteen foot deep, three feet in diameter footings hold the tower in place.
Bebo hired a crane and operator from Structural Specialties in Hutchinson to lift the tower and set it on thick bolts sealed into the footings. "That (operator) was good," Bebo said. "The towers have to be perfectly level and we would tell him to lower one side a half-inch and he could do it."
Around the top of the tower is a basket - a walkway - that Bebo designed and attached before the tower was erected. He also added a trolley to carry him up the tower.
If one can handle rising 100 feet in the air, Bebo's trolley design is very safe, complete with breaks that would stop it from falling if the cable were to break.
"We can go up," Bebo offers, but agoraphobia prevents that particular view. "Aw, it isn't that bad, once you're up there."
The turbines were purchased over a year ago, and Bebo rebuilt them. Each weighs in at about 4,800 pounds. The propellers are 44 feet in diameter.
On May 22, it took another crane and operator, plus Bebo and Steve Nowak at the top of the tower to set the turbines in place.
Inside his shop individual amperage meters give a readout on what each wind turbine is generating.
"They're set up so they work the best from the north, northwest, south and southwest," he said. From the southeast and northeast one tower blocks another, slowing down the wind and the generating ability.
The wind turbines have their own safety measures built in. When the wind speed hits 50 mph, they shut down and lock up, first with a dynamic electric brake, then with a Sterns brake. When the wind dies down to 40 miles an hour the turbines start up again.
Bebo demonstrated the brake, starting up the turbine. From 100 feet below the propellers looked like giant legs, kicking into the gray, humid sky.
He moved the dial to "off" and the electric brake buzzes for two seconds, when the Sterns brake kicks in and the propellers stop cold.
Later, Bebo turned all three turbines on and from his home one can hear their electric noise and the propellers slapping the wind. From the looks of things, this will be his home's accompaniment for many years.