A passion for wind power


MILLERSBURG, Ohio – Bernie Caldwell calls wind power his passion.
And thankfully, for the 40-plus people who gathered at the Millersburg library to hear him talk on the subject last week, he’s not just a blowhard. He’s walking his talk, running his Wayne County home partly on wind power.
Caldwell, who lives near Wooster, uses a combination hybrid turbine with solar panels to pump power from the sky into his home.
Thought behind action. Caldwell, an industrial arts and science teacher, says his obsession with conservation and renewable power started when he was in high school.
“I wanted to have a house with its own power source for a really long time. I designed my home that I live in now while I was in high school, and, well, I’ve been out of high school quite a while,” he admits.
Bernie finally went through with his plan in late 1999 and put a turbine atop the 115-foot tower beside his house.
The tower, nestled in the woods that shelters Caldwell’s log home from the elements, also has a solar panel attached that hovers right above the tree line.
Though he’s not fully powering his own home from the single turbine, he is creating enough electricity to offset part of his own family’s use, which is enough to make him feel good about what he’s doing.
Caldwell offered the following tips to anyone interested in pursuing a small-scale turbine project at home:
1. Before you look into a turbine, first look around your own home. Are you doing everything you can to conserve energy in the first place?
Caldwell said it’s a good idea to look at your own power usage – the average Ohio household uses 917 kilowatt hours per month – and see if you can cut back before you consider trying to give back to the power company.
He recommends a goal of cutting 10 percent, which is easy to do by changing all light bulbs around the house to energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Caldwell admitted that in a household that includes three teens, getting them to turn off the lights behind them isn’t the easiest task, either, but well worth it when it comes to the electricity bill.
2. Do your homework. Is your site compatible for a wind turbine?
Caldwell said a turbine has to be 30 feet above any obstruction, so in his case, in the middle of a woods, he had to build a taller tower. But it wasn’t without cost, or reward.
“The higher you go, the more wind you will find.”
Caldwell said there are multiple Ohio companies that are good at site analysis and system recommendations.
3. Watch the weather.
Caldwell said it’s a good idea to put up a weather station to gather data to see if your property is the right location for a turbine.
The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Wooster has collected data on wind speed in the area since 1982, Caldwell said. Use their research to help you.
4. Look before you spend.
Don’t necessarily buy the first turbine you look at. Check around on prices, features and compatibility before you bring out the checkbook.
Caldwell said a 400-watt turbine can run $800 from a dealer, or significantly cheaper if bought used or online, such as eBay.
Caldwell bought his 1.5-kilowatt turbine out of Minnesota. It’s got a 14-foot blade span, weighs 350 pounds, and sits atop the 115-foot three-legged tower.
It’s clearly a big investment that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t rush into it.
5. Check with your local government to see what, if any, permits you’ll need.
Caldwell said a turbine tower can climb to 225 feet before the owner needs an aviation permit, but always check with your county and local government to see what local rules are.
6. Pal up to the power company.
It also pays to take time to develop a relationship with your local power company, Caldwell said. It helps when it’s time to sell your wind power to them, and also in protecting their linemen in case of a power surge or outage. They’ll need to know if you’re running a turbine for power, period.
7. Look at the big picture. Sure it sounds nice to say you’re selling electricity to the power company, or looking toward the eventual goal of being completely off the grid. But are you up to it?
Owning and operating a wind turbine takes a measure of technical knowledge, maintenance, and pure grit. Do you have what it takes to climb your tower twice a year to check the machine?
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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