Francis Ladd: Power from the Wind 2009.15.09

Written by David Green.


Francis Ladd smiles when the breeze picks up and he can see the wheel of his electric meter begin to spin. He knows he’s generating electricity.

“I used to hate the wind,” he said.francis.turbine.jpg

He appreciated a good breeze pushing his sailboat across a lake, but at home on Sand Creek Highway, the wind was only something to put up with as it blew across the open fields.

That was before he erected a 2.4kW wind turbine behind his house.

“Now I love the wind,” he says.

Choosing a wind turbine was no quick decision for Francis.

“He was researching them when we were married 30 years ago,” said his wife, Cheryl.

The technological changes over those three decades is remarkable, and the options keep getting better.

He finally chose the Skystream 3.7 and installed the unit last November. It’s a residential model that produces 240 volt clean electricity for his own use and to sell back to Midwest Energy Cooperative.

“The biggest misconception with turbines is expecting a quick payback,” Francis said, “but that’s not necessarily the reason you put one up.”

Cheryl says her husband has been growing greener over the years and it shows in the house they constructed in 1989.

The 2,800 square foot timber frame design is super insulated. The heat-storage fireplace—with large field stones storing and slowly giving off warmth—allows even heating throughout the open layout of the three-story structure, with wood-burning efficiency at more than 60 percent.

“I’ve only had my chimney cleaned once in 20 years,” Francis said, and that cleaning didn’t produce much creosote.

There are high-efficiency appliances in the laundry room and a Prius automobile (51 miles a gallon) in the garage.

“What I’ve saved is phenomenal,” he said.

Francis figures his heating costs are less than a quarter of what’s needed to keep the neighboring farmhouse warm where he grew up.

“I pay more for communications—cell phone and internet service—than I do for electricity and gas.”

The wind turbine is taking the energy savings one step further.

“I wanted something that would pay me back,” he said, although his decision was not completely based on personal economics.

“I wanted to do my part in saving energy,” he said.

If enough people take this approach,  he figures, perhaps one less power generation plant would be needed in the future. And besides that, he said, the world will eventually run out of fossil fuels.

“If we can slow that down, it’s a benefit for the future,” Francis said.

Skystream 3.7

The Ladds chose the Skystream from Arizona-based Southwest Power and contacted the nearest dealer, Independent Energy of Monroe, Mich.

The cost with installation totals $13,800, but Francis did most of the preliminary work himself to save some cash. With the federal tax credit, his final cost was less than $10,000.

“You have to keep in mind that it’s an appliance,” he said. “The difference is that it’s giving me something back. All other appliances are energy drains. As you use the turbine, you’re always getting a payback.”turbine.base.jpg

His turbine is mounted on a 33-foot pole. The three-bladed rotor has a diameter of 12 feet. An 8 mph wind is needed to kick it into action and it can operate at a speed as low as 5 mph.

The unit is built to withstand 141 mph winds but produces its peak energy at 29 mph. At any speed greater than that, a magnetic braking system slows it down.

“If it’s too windy, it shuts itself off for an hour,” Francis said.

He wanted a machine that would take care of itself and that’s what he likes about this model. He’s not using a battery storage system and the turbine needs to be connected to the electric grid in order to function.

It was easy to assemble and easy to make the electrical connections. Personnel from the dealer oversaw the installation in order to validate the five-year warranty and Midwest workers assisted on the electrical side.

A digital meter from Midwest displays the energy used by the Ladds and also registers the amount sent back to the utility company.

There’s also a meter in the head of the turbine that sends out signals about wind speed and power production, but the Ladds will need to buy a receiver and software to make use of the data. Two years of information is stored, so there’s no hurry to get connected, although Francis looks forward to eventually combing through the information.

In May, the Ladds purchased an average of 15 kW a day from Midwest while producing 4 kW of their own and sending back 1 kW. June wasn’t quite as breezy. They produced an average of 3 kW a day and still returned about 1 kW a day to the cooperative.

They saved about $23 a month in the winter months, although they weren’t in the state for the entire time. Savings jumped to $30 in May, then fell to about $17 in June, which is where Francis expects it to stay for the summer months which are traditionally less windy.

It’s a better return on his investment than a bank or the stock market would provide, Francis said.

Their new clothes dryer is electric and they’re considering buying an electric water heater in order to use more of their own electricity rather than returning it to Midwest. The company pays the Ladds the wholesale cost.

Francis is also considering a second turbine.

“I’d like to put up another machine to work toward net zero,” he said.

Wind energy isn’t for everyone, Francis said. You need the location and the resources, but you also need the right attitude.

“It’s not cheap electricity. You will not make a lot of money with a wind turbine,” Francis said. “Like everything in your life, you need to make a choice and have a reason for what you do. For those who can afford it and have the desire, a wind turbine is a very good appliance.”

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