Wind harnessing not practical for homeowners

11_bollinger_4579A DAY WITHOUT WIND  — The Bollinger wind turbine, its propeller blades still without even a summer breeze.  I-O Photo by Tirsea McNeal

By Tirsea McNeal, I-O Reporter

Wind turbines are quite different than the old windmills of the past.

In the early 1920s, farm families throughout Montana used windmills for energy. Small appliances and lights were powered by freestanding windmills dotting the prairie until the government subsidized utility lines and poles bringing electricity to small towns and farmers.

Since the late 1970s, the concern regarding the environment has innovators looking into other means of energy, such as solar panels and now popular wind turbines.

Large wind turbines can be seen dotting the hillside in remote and rural locations all across the nation in places where winds are fairly constant.

As electric bills increase, the green energy alternative ideas are becoming more popular.

Individuals are looking into powering their own homes and small farms with wind turbines and wonder how do I get started?

The web has multiple sites selling the smaller wind turbines, but aside from the cost of purchasing a turbine, homeowners can’t forget their own city’s ordinances.

Several companies boast efficiency and quality. The web is packed with competitive companies selling small turbines.

In addition the significant initial cost of this high powered investment is the cost involved with permits and ordinance compliance.

Another consideration is how much wind does your site actually get over a year? What are your electric bills costing verses the cost of setting up a new system? and then there is the compliance with those city ordinances.

In 2008, Don Bollinger put up a small wind turbine.  He didn’t put it up to make money, but to help offset electric bill costs.  He said, “I remember the old windmill could generate enough power to run a light or two at night, but not a refrigerator or any other motor.”

Bollinger says “wind power is a good idea, if you have perfect wind conditions for 24 hours a day, 30 days a month, 12 months a year.”

The small wind turbine is designed with a magnet stop braking system, maintaining the maximum amount of speed allowed so the turbine doesn’t destroy itself.

Overall, Bollinger says the wind turbine generator just isn’t practical.  “For what it cost, it will take approximately 12 to 14 years for the system to pay for itself.  We’re lucky if we get a $10 to $12 monthly savings.”

Conrad City Ordinance No. 400, relates to wind powered generators for installation within the city limits of Conrad. It was signed into law July 6, 2009.

The purpose of the five page ordinance is to provide the public health, safety and welfare by regulating the height and location of wind powered generators (WPG).

There are also the risks involved with wind turbines. According to website article by Paul Gipe, The Summary of Fatal Accidents in Wind Energy, “We obey the law to stay in business, but we obey the laws of physics to stay alive.”

He goes on to say, “Wind energy exposes those who work with it to hazards similar to those in other industries. Of course, there are the hazards which, taken together, are unique to wind energy: high winds, heights, rotating machinery and the large spinning mass of the wind turbine rotor. Wind energy’s hazards, like its appearance on the landscape, are readily apparent. Wind energy hides no latent killers; no black lung, for example. When wind kills, it does so directly, and with gruesome effect.”

Smaller turbines pose less risk because of their size; however, due to the risks, one of the Conrad city ordinance requirements is during the construction phase to obtain liability insurance.  “There shall be maintained a current general liability policy covering bodily injury and property damage with limits of at least $1 million per occurrence and $1 million in the aggregate.”

After the initial cost of liability insurance, and all the construction and mechanical permits and building requirements, it becomes an inconceivable project for most homeowners and just isn’t practical.