Farmer Turns to Small Wind Turbinesby Associated Press
Capital Press, July 18, 2008
McMINNVILLE, Ore. - When Mike Bernards began exploring ways to cut soaring operating costs for the 500 acres he farms near McMinn-ville, he looked first to the sun.
But after failing to find suitable solar options for his farm's multiple crops, he decided to harness the wind instead.
The search is now paying off.
A crew of about 20 wind-product dealers, installers and utility professionals descended on his farm earlier this month for a series of lectures and workshops. In a matter of days they erected a 120-foot-tall tower and turbine capable of supplying upward of 25 percent of Bernards' annual energy needs.
"We were looking to somehow lighten our carbon footprint in a cost-effective way," said Bernards, a fourth-generation farmer whose great-grandfather crafted wooden pumps for windmills in Holland a century ago. "With the wind turbine, we think we've found what we were looking for." The sight of propellered towers churning out vast megawatts of energy on wind farms in the Columbia River Gorge and elsewhere is becoming increasingly common. But Bernards' project is pioneering in its use of on-site "small-wind" resources.
"The number of customers doing this at this point can be counted on one hand," said Bruce Barney, Portland General Electric's project manager for customer energy resources. "But from rural areas to urban ones, we're seeing very intense interest in this."
Urban zoning laws probably will impede widespread use of wind turbines in cities and suburbs because the towers would run afoul of height standards that generally don't apply in rural areas, Barney said. However, taller apartment buildings and condominium complexes might be suited for rooftop towers.
"I've seen artist's renderings of buildings in Portland with wind turbines on top," he said. "There are still lots of issues to address, but the possibilities are definitely there."
The effort is aided by a 1999 law requiring PGE and Pacific Power, the state's two largest investor-owned utilities, to collect a 3 percent "public purposes charge" from their customers. A portion of that money is available to help offset installation costs. Energy Trust of Oregon, an independent, nonprofit agency organized in 2001, distributes the grant money.
To qualify for small-wind grants, sites must be at least one acre in size, have limited obstructions from nearby trees or buildings and be able to demonstrate an annual average wind speed of at least 10 miles per hour at the tower's hub, where the propellers attach.
In Bernards' case, those grants, combined with Oregon Department of Energy tax credits, means he will pay about $12,000 for a wind-generation system worth $70,000.
His 10-kilowatt turbine will be capable of producing about 1,300 kilowatts of power a month, said Greg Price, of Abundant Renewable Energy, the Newberg-based company installing the unit. By comparison, an average household in Oregon uses about 1,000 kilowatts of power monthly.
An added plus with small-wind systems, Price said, is that under so-called net-metering laws, excess electricity produced by the turbine can be banked for later use.
The tower will be every bit as visible from nearby Oregon 18 as the large, white roadside barn emblazoned with the letters "Bernards' Farm."
The family moved to the property from another Yamhill County farm eight years ago. Today, they produce row crops such as strawberries and beans; walnuts and filberts; perennial and fescue grass seed; clover crops; artichokes and zucchini for their seasonal produce stand.
Bernards' greenhouses, used for nurturing plant starts, gulp electricity, as do the farm's numerous coolers and fans.
"If we're successful here, and I expect we will be, a lot of folks will start thinking about using wind power to defray rising electricity costs," Bernards said. "From everything I can see so far, it makes all the sense in the world."
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