By Linda Scherer
Wind turbines are becoming a common part of the country’s landscape and seem to be an indication that many believe the answer to clean and affordable energy is blowing in the wind.
With the new federal economic stimulus package offering a tax credit to consumers who invest in wind power, it would seem like the perfect time to purchase a turbine.
The tax credit incentive was part of the reason Lenny and Linda Juncewski of Winsted finally made the decision to buy a wind turbine after considering the purchase for about three years.
“Everybody who puts up one (wind turbine) puts up another one later. That tells me something,” Lenny said.
When the Juncewskis became serious about installing a turbine, they did research and began contacting people in the area who already owned one.
With many turbine options available to them, they chose three wind turbines with towers 70 feet high (to be made at Millerbernd Manufacturing), blades 6 feet long and 2.4 kilowatt generators.
Their plan is to have wind power from three sources so if one breaks down, there are still two that are producing electricity while the third one gets repaired.
The total cost of the three wind generators is approximately $55,500, which is less than half the cost of one of the towers they had considered.
The wind turbine company in Springfield, MN the Juncewskis have bought their turbines through installed 17 other turbines last year, 12 of them in Minnesota.
The Juncewskis are hoping that the towers will produce enough electricity to cover their monthly electric bill.
“We use quite a bit of electricity here and I would just like to break even,” Lenny said.
“We are thinking that electricity will only be going up,” Linda said.
The Juncewskis first applied to Winsted Township for permission to put up the towers and received approval right away. They also registered with the FAA because of the Winsted Airport, and are still waiting to hear back.
At McLeod County, Juncewskis had to apply for a conditional use permit, which was almost $400, and they will next need to apply for a regular permit if the towers are approved by the county board of commissioners.
So far, Juncewskis are pleased with the progress they are making and can’t wait to capture the wind in their backyard. “Everybody we have gone to has been just great,” Lenny said.
Near Watertown, Rich Cohrs could not be happier with his setup. The 120-foot high tower, 15-foot blades, and a 20-kilowatt generator wind turbine has been producing electricity for Rich and Eunice Cohrs’ home since March 2003.
Rich calls the turbine, Mom’s Generator. His mother had passed away in 2003, and after the family had sold her home, Rich got just enough money to build it.
“She grew up with a windmill on the farm. Too bad she never got to see it,” Rich said. “She would have loved to see it.”
Just like the Juncewskis, Rich, also, had to go through the permitting process.
Both Watertown Township and Carver County seemed receptive to having the turbine built in the area, Rich said.
Once approved, the county also required soil borings, and an engineer to design footings for the tower. The design for the footings required by the county never got used although Rich had to pay an addtional $3,000 to appease the county. The design for the footings that arrived with the tower exceeded the engineering designs requested by the county and were the ones Rich used for his tower.
The turbine came from a company in Iowa, but the tower was not the 120 feet Rich had wanted, so he bought a new tower and then put the reconditioned generator and blades on it.
The tower was built by Rich and his two brothers. They put it together in his shed in one weekend.
“It has 522 bolts and every one has a nut and a lock nut for each bolt, 1,044 nuts,” Rich said. “We just had to know how many so we counted them all when we got done.”
It was moved to the wind turbine’s location with a Bobcat and tractor, then Rich hired a crane to tip the tower up.
In October, new 15-foot fiberglass blades were purchased for the wind turbine.
“The wooden ones I had on before were hail damaged and were starting to get out of balance,” Rich said.
The new blades, which cost $5,300, are more efficient, producing about 30 percent more power.
“My other blades would quit turning in 4-mph winds. This one hardly ever turns off,” Rich said.
The wind turbine is putting out 20 kilowatts of power, which produces enough energy to supply the Cohrs’ home with all of its electrical needs. For the extra electricity not used in their home, they get a check from Xcel at the end of the month.
According to Rich, the average home uses 900 kilowatts a month. It would take an equivalent six tons of coal to produce the same amount of power. For the three months of December, January, and February (with the new blades), Rich’s wind turbine produced a total of 5,400 kilowatts.
Besides getting money back for the electricity, the Cohrs do not use, they get a check from the state for 1.5 cents per kilowatt produced per year.
It is a state incentive, but Xcel pays it.
Although it is a nice bonus, Rich added there are better incentives now.
One of the things Rich would do differently if he was to build his wind turbine again is increase the size of the generator to 40 kilowatts.
According to Rich, if you want to get paid from Xcel, a 40-kilowatt generator is the maximum you can have. Over 40 is considered a wholesaler, and then the rate received is a wholesale rate.
If two wind turbines are put up, as long as there is a separate meter for each, there can be a 40-kilowatt generator on each.
Rich considers the investment he made was a good one.
“At the time, the banks were paying about 1.5 percent. The stock market, if I had put it in there, what would I have left? I would have lost over half of it,” Rich said. “So I am getting a good 6 to 8 percent return on my money. What bank is going to give you 8 percent return on your money, and the generator is worth more now than what I paid for it.”
In addition, two years ago, Rich took advantage of his tower by getting high speed Internet service for the neighborhood. The satellite on his tower comes out of Hutchinson. For supplying the high speed Internet for the neighbors, the Cohrs get their Internet service for free.
Although the Cohrs have considered a second wind turbine, Rich said there is a downside to owning one.
“They are expensive to maintain,” Rich said. “Every year the tower needs an oil change and a grease job. I won’t go up there. I hire somebody to do it. There is a ladder, but it is a crude ladder.”
Rich has enjoyed his tower in the six years he has owned it. “I can tell people how to get to my house,” he joked. “And it is a good conversation piece. I get about 20 people annually who see it and stop in to find out how it works.”
When the wind is blowing and his turbine blades are spinning, he likes to listen to the sound. Rich does not believe there is such a thing as noise pollution from wind turbines.
“I can hear mine once in a while,” Rich said. “If you have a wind coming here just barreling out of the northwest the wind is coming in at about 30 miles per hour. I hear it and I love that sound. The more sound I hear the more I hear a jingle in my pockets not the wind.”