Homeowners, small businesses install turbines to cut long-term energy costs

April 25, 2009 By Carolyn Starks

Steve and Sue Kirkham's home sits atop a hill where the wind can be strong enough to mute conversations and rattle lawn chairs. Instead of complaining, they decided to harness its power.

The Harvard, Ill., couple is installing a small wind turbine on their property -- a 34-foot-tall modern-day windmill that they say will make them a bit more self-reliant and they hope will save them money.

"It's primarily to reduce our long term and to do something good for the environment," Steve Kirkham, 52, said. "We have all this wind up here, we might as well utilize it."

Residential are becoming a larger part of the renewable energy picture, and more homeowners are harnessing the wind to help them reduce . The small turbines also are being purchased by some small businesses and schools.

Rhodes School in west suburban River Grove, Ill., installed a wind turbine April 9, as a teaching tool and to conserve energy, said John Mertes, director of technology for Rhodes School District 84{. He said he believes Rhodes is the first urban school in the state to install a small turbine. It is expected to generate 400 kilowatt hours of electricity a month, which is about half the energy needs of a small household.

In about two weeks, Chicago will host the 2009 Windpower Conference & Exhibition, which is the world's largest annual wind energy event and is sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association. The association said Illinois is ranked eighth among the states in the number of wind turbines installed.

New federal incentives also are spurring interest, energy experts say.

For 2008, homeowners could claim a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of a wind turbine, though the credit was capped at about $4,000. The stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed in February removed the caps.

Depending on the size, the cost of buying and installing a turbine ranges from $14,000 to $20,000, experts say.

"We've definitely seen an interest for small wind turbines, especially in Illinois, which is a great place for wind especially as you move further away from the city and get a lot of open land," said Miriam Robbins, marketing director for Southwest Windpower in Flagstaff, Ariz., the largest producer of small wind turbines in the country.

The company began manufacturing small wind turbines in late 2006. They've sold more than 3,500 nationally, Robbins said.

Most turbines need at least 10-m.p.h. winds to be efficient, which is what the Kirkhams say they have in rural Harvard. Their bill has been going up about $300 a year -- to about $1,500 in 2007 -- and they hope their investment -- just under $20,000 -- will pay off.

The turbine is expected to generate 40 to 90 percent of their power needs, said Ray O'Connor, the McHenry County electrician who installed it.

Any extra energy that the Kirkhams' turbine produces will be fed back to Commonwealth Edison. When this happens, ComEd will keep track of the amount of power and provide a credit to reduce any future energy draws.

Last year, Ivanhoe Nursery near Mundelein, Ill., had a 100-foot-tall wind turbine installed to augment solar energy panels, which generate energy for the 400-acre farm.

"We got great tax incentives," said farm manager Tony Zimmerman. "Ours is much larger than what a homeowner would get, but I would say it is generating 15 to 20 percent of our energy needs. But it is fairly new. We'll have to wait and see."

Troy Rudy said his company, Northern Illinois Wind Power in Freeport, Ill., has installed 19 residential and small-business turbines in seven counties. He has sold five this year, and next month will put one in the Smart Home exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.


(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.
Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Quiet wind turbine could provide up to 30% of a home's power

Related Stories

Recycling wind turbines

September 21, 2007

The development of wind power promises much in terms of providing us with renewable energy for the future and wind turbines could be the most effective way to harness that power. Danish researchers now suggest that in order ...

Government blocks wind farm plans

June 1, 2006

The U.S. government has ordered work stopped on more than a dozen wind farms, saying the giant turbines might interfere with military radar.

MIT designs 'invisible,' floating wind turbines

September 18, 2006

An MIT researcher has a vision: Four hundred huge offshore wind turbines are providing onshore customers with enough electricity to power several hundred thousand homes, and nobody standing onshore can see them. The trick? ...

Researchers evaluate highway rest areas for wind power

March 20, 2009

Illinois is the Prairie State and home to the Windy City. And sometimes, when standing out in that prairie and feeling the wind racing across the state, you begin to wonder if there is anything between here and Kansas that ...

Recommended for you

New technique spots warning signs of extreme events

September 22, 2017

Many extreme events—from a rogue wave that rises up from calm waters, to an instability inside a gas turbine, to the sudden extinction of a previously hardy wildlife species—seem to occur without warning. It's often impossible ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2009
But no published cost balances? Here the avoided cost for power is $0.06 per kWh. Divide that into the cost of the alternative machine to find its pay back rate.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2009
"Homeowners, small businesses install turbines to cut long-term energy costs."

Homeowners, small businesses install wind turbines to capture genereous subsidies, export useless intermittent electricity to the electrical grid.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2009
Electricity where I am is a whopping $0.18 kWh, which I believe is the U.S. national average and I just built a wind turbine from scratch using a guide I bought online.
It has definitely saved me money, although it took about 6 weeks to cover the cost of all the parts. But it is definitely a solution and much cheaper than buying one.
I found the guide through this site http://www.CostSucker.com
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2009
Again we see the confusion between "capacity" and the actual amount of electricity wind produces.In the UK claims that the 2000 or so installed windmills have a capacity to produce 3 gigawatts have been shown to be baloney as they produce at best under 700 MW.In the extremely cold early months of 2008 wind produced just 1% of the claimed "capacity".Many of the DIY outlets in the UK have stopped selling the small domestic mills/turbines as they do not perform.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2009
What is needed is geothermal. We have oil rigs capable of drilling through 20km of hard rock. That's all you need in many places to set up gigawatt power stations.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2009
What is needed is geothermal. We have oil rigs capable of drilling through 20km of hard rock. That's all you need in many places to set up gigawatt power stations.

The deepest hole ever drilled is the Kola Superdeep borehole at 12.2 km. This hole was drilled for research purposes.

The target of 15 km could not be reached since the projected temperature of 300 degrees celcius would have been too hot for the drill-bit to work.

The cost goes up very rapidly with increasing depth. Given that the deepest boreholes economical for oil production is about 6 km. How do you expect geothermal boreholes, which bring up on the order of 50 times less energy per volume pumped, to be economical?
5 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2009
What is needed is geothermal. We have oil rigs capable of drilling through 20km of hard rock. That's all you need in many places to set up gigawatt power stations.

What is needed is geothermal. We have oil rigs capable of drilling through 20km of hard rock. That's all you need in many places to set up gigawatt power stations.

What about geothermal heat pumps [or ground source heat pumps ]?An overlooked source of "free" energy,no deep drilling,constant and very cost effective
not rated yet Apr 27, 2009
What about geothermal heat pumps [or ground source heat pumps ]?An overlooked source of "free" energy,no deep drilling,constant and very cost effective

I looked into this for my home. it wasn't feasable given the layout of my property and building, and its closeness to other existing structures. You need to either drill deep and narrow or shallow and very wide. For some people in more rural settings, or if you were building from scratch the house and incorporated it in at that time, it might work out.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2009
Wind turbine costs are a ripoff. They should be around one fifth of what they are now being sold for.
not rated yet Apr 28, 2009
Well I'm happy I get true info on these forums. Thanks. My ignorance is abit less. It seems a lot of people and companies are are working on a lazer drill bit that will solve the problem.

not rated yet Apr 28, 2009
For some people in more rural settings

Thats meeeeeee !!! :)

Sorry ,being selfish there for a minute,but some urban properties can utilise vertical "bundles" with a degree of success

not rated yet Apr 29, 2009
What about geothermal heat pumps [or ground source heat pumps ]?An overlooked source of "free" energy,no deep drilling,constant and very cost effective

Geothermal is a bit of misnomer.

A heat pump moves heat from cold to hot, the maximum efficiency it can operate at is related to the temperatures of the hot reservoir (your house) and cold reservoir(the bottom of a lake, air, the earth beneath your house...).

Several meters under the earth the temperature is "annualized" to the yearly average, which is higher than the fridgid outside temperature. This allows you to increase the coefficient of performance of a heat pump from ~3 to ~5(resistance heating has a COP of 1). This still represents a USE of electricity, you still need a source.

If you hermetically seal your house and do all ventilation centrally through a high-quality(big, expensive) counter-flow heat exchanger you can almost eliminate heating and cooling demands from ventilation.

The problem with these things is that they don't repay themselves fast enough and many people have too much debt load as it is and cannot add more.
not rated yet May 02, 2009
A farm near my home installed a wind turbine about 8 months ago. The local newspaper said it was going to provide 70% of the farm's power needs. Based on actual observations as I drove by, the turbine operates less than 15% of the time. There are only a few hundred areas in the US where wind-power makes sense and the Willamette valley isn't one of them.

Chances are, neither is your house.
not rated yet Jun 06, 2009

Wind generators are simple, eff and should be cost effective. Sadly most ones being sold are way overpriced.
One can build eff, very cost effective ones yourself. I'd suggest joining a RE or wind generator list or yahoo group or yahoo Axial flux wind generators. No need to buy a $50 guide as it's all available for free online. So are the parts needed.
Since it cost less than $300/kw in parts retail there is no reason they should cost more than $1k/kw. I've built quite a few so I know first hand.
I have and many do use wind generators for our power needs and you can too if you find those who are doing it themselves that have no business interest in it to guide you.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.