Watts in the Wind: Page 2 of 5

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Inside this Article

Smith off-grid home
Gus Smith's off-grid, wind- and solar-powered home.
Checking tower layout
The author double-checks the guy-anchor layout. Accurate positioning is critical for smooth raising and lowering of tilt-up towers.
Tower base
Tower base.
Gin pole anchor
Gin pole anchor.
Guy anchor
Guy anchor.
Electric winching
Carl Schwingel raises the 120-foot tower with an electric winch.
Tower going up
The tower, with the Bergey XL.1 on top, goes up slowly. Special attention is paid to keeping guy wires free from tangles or snags during the initial lifting.
Smith off-grid home
Checking tower layout
Tower base
Gin pole anchor
Guy anchor
Electric winching
Tower going up

A wind-electric system would cost about $1,500 more than extending the utility grid to our home, and for us this was “close enough.” Plus, we wouldn’t get monthly bills from the wind-electric system. However, using my dad’s economic terms, at current electricity rates, we wouldn’t recoup the additional expense of installing a wind-electric system for about 21 years (offsetting 1,020 KWH per year at $0.08 per KWH). But financial payback was only one variable that entered into our decision. Given the fact that we could pay for the project, our desires to minimize our impact on the environment and maintain our energy independence were the most important.

Site Suitability

The next step was a wind site assessment. Without it, we would not be eligible for the cash-back incentive available from Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s public–private partnership agency offering information, services, and incentives for renewable energy. Sam Simonetta, a certified wind site assessor for Focus on Energy, and his partner Christine showed up on a windless day in December 2005 to survey our site’s suitability for wind-electric generation.

Sam knew that our general location had an average wind speed of about 10 mph, and as such he didn’t actually monitor the wind, but instead measured nearby trees to determine the minimum tower height required to effectively harness the wind’s energy. Trees and buildings reduce wind speed, and cause turbulence that increases wear and tear on wind turbines. For optimal energy production and turbine longevity, wind turbine towers should be sized to get the wind generator itself at least 30 feet above any objects within 300 feet. We also discussed our existing solar-electric system and our daily electricity usage. Sam provided us with a comprehensive report that suggested a turbine rated between 600 and 1,000 watts at 25 mph, producing about 85 KWH per month at our site, would round out our energy needs. 

Focus on Energy offers cash-back rewards for RE projects for both individuals and businesses in Wisconsin. The wind-electric rewards program offers $1.85 per KWH for the estimated annual output of the system, with a cap of 25 percent of the total project costs. A 1,000-watt wind turbine at our site is projected to produce 1,020 KWH per year, so we received a $1,887 rebate for our roughly $12,000 investment in wind energy. If we had more wind or had selected a larger wind turbine, we would have received a larger cash-back award.

Buying a Tower & Turbine

After some initial research, I decided to purchase my tower and turbine from Lake Michigan Wind & Sun. John Hippensteel and his team engineer and manufacture towers in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. I chose the LMW&S tilt-up tower based on recommendations from wind system owners who have installed these towers at their sites. The only real difficulty was figuring out a way to get the very heavy 20-foot-long tower sections to my site without spending an arm and a leg on freight delivery. Luckily, I had a friend with a truck and trailer who was happy to pick up the tower components at LMW&S, and deliver them free of charge.

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