Friday, October 30, 2009

Harnessing the Wind

A month or so ago the people up the road from us got a windmill (that's an archaic term that I'm not sure is used anymore). Then we read that Bear Creek Winery down the road got one as well. When the winery offered an open house the other week to find out more about it, we jumped at the chance. Our electric bills regularly make me wince, and I have heard Homer electric rates are some of the highest in the country.

Alaskan Wind Industries is the only company installing wind turbines on the Kenai Peninsula. Both our neighbors and the winery have a Skystream (pictured here), a 2.4 Kw, 3 blade turbine that does not start producing till the wind hits 8 mph. It cuts off at 60 mph (according to the company rep; their literature says 50 mph), so while a real storm would be a great benefit for electricity production, it shuts off at high wind speeds to prevent damage to the turbine. Unlike solar power, where energy is stored in batteries, these are pretty much on-demand: if the turbine is going, you can use the energy. If it is not you'll be depending on Homer Electric Association like everyone else. If more energy is produced than you are using then it is automatically sold back to Homer Electric (HEA), so there could be a lower electric bill just because you're selling the leftovers.

The turbine we are considering is called the Gale. Its main disadvantage is that it can only be on a 30 foot pole, so if 30 feet doesn't get it above the trees, then this option won't work. It starts producing electricity at wind speeds of just 4 mph, and has no cut-off. It was designed to work on the tops of mountains that have extreme windspeeds. Just like the Skystream it is about $15-18 K. The company says they are willing to let you help install (about $4500 of the price is installation) and take off part of the installation price for doing so. There is a 5 year warranty on these. The Skystream up the road from us is unbalanced so it does not catch as much wind as it should, and the company was working on fixing it for the owners.

Alaskan Wind Industries has installed 15 wind turbines on the Kenai Peninsula so far. Some of the options are as expensive as $85,000 each for higher end wind turbines, and there are also creative options such as a wind/solar light pole, with the turbine attached to the top of the city light pole. Wind turbines are not allowed in Anchorage, so the company just opened an office outside Anchorage (in Palmer I think). Homer has had its share of debates about allowing wind power use within the city limits. The City Council decided to be consistent in making Homer less dependent on non-renewable resources and recently passed a resolution allowing wind power within the city limits, with some restrictions (lots of at least 1 acre, a certain distance from the edges of the property, etc.). Since we are out of town no such restrictions apply.

We're not convinced that this option is the way to go. Over the long term, yes, it could save money if all goes well. One of my concerns is how do you get rid of a wind turbine that is no longer working? I see TV antenna and dishes all over the place that are obsolete and no longer used, but still up on the top of homes or in yards. A wind turbine is a lot bigger than that, and I would guess a lot more costly to dismantle come the time when it no longer functions. If many people get on the bandwagon and utilize wind power, 50 to 100 years from now we could look over the landscape and see a sea of functioning or dysfunctional wind turbines. And would a wind turbine add or detract value from our home? We're still toying with the idea, but we need more information before we could jump in and say this is the way to go.

No comments: