Fankhausers have a small wind turbine 2009.10.17

Written by David Green.

fankhauser.barn.jpgBy DAVID GREEN

Some people buy a wind turbine with the idea of saving money on utility costs; others just like the idea of having one.

Put Marvin and Cindy Fankhauser in the latter category.

“It’s like a hobby for us,” Marvin said when a group of Morenci eighth grade science students came to have a look. “It saves us a little money, it gives us lights in a power outage and it’s a conversation piece.”

Marvin bought a small battery-charging turbine from WindBlue Power located in Kansas. The developers created a simple system that generates power with an alternator from a 1978 Camaro. Brush magnets are replaced with permanent magnets.

A three-phase current travels down from the top of the tower to a rectifier that feeds into a pair of golf cart batteries. Those batteries can be repeatedly drained and recharged without harm.

An inverter changes the power to household current.

The students came prepared with plenty of questions.

• Does it kill birds?

The number one killer of birds, Marvin said, is the window. An estimated 500 million birds die every year from collisions with windows.

Cats come in next at 100 million deaths and turbines trail at an estimated 6 million.

• Will snow or ice affect the operation of the turbine?

Ice might hamper it a little, Marvin said, but not much.

• How much did your turbine cost?

The tower has stood by the barn for 30 years, so there was no cost there. The turbine cost $474 and everything else down below in the barn cost about $900.

• Why did you buy a turbine?

This is when Marvin explained that it’s sort of a hobby. Maybe he’s acting a little ”green” or maybe he’s just being cheap, he said

Power from Consumers Energy is generated by coal and if he uses a little less of it, then that’s a little less coal burned.

“If everybody saved a little,” he said, “that would make a big difference.

“Since June, I haven’t used any electricity from Consumers for lights and power tools in the barn.”

He’s sharpened lawnmower blades and operated a variety of power tools with wind energy.

• What if it’s not windy?

Power is stored in the two batteries. His system can handle up to eight batteries.

Morenci is in a low area and won’t experience as much wind as other nearby areas, Marvin said. His tower is only 47 feet tall. The really large turbines stand up to 300 feet in the air. He’s been told there’s always some wind blowing by the time you reach the 120-foot level.

• Could your turbine survive major winds without damage?

WindBlue claims the unit can withstand a 100 mile an hour wind, Marvin said.

“My tower might not survive that,” he said.

It’s possible to create a braking system to slow the rotors down.

• Did your turbine come ready to use?

Marvin painted it and assembled the blades, then arranged the electrical components in the barn.

“It’s a pretty simple operation to do,” he said.

• How big is your turbine?

The blades are five feet from tip to tip.

• Would you buy it again?

In this area, he said, it’s questionable.

“There are two many obstructions,” he said. “Mrs. Fankhauser and I planted 185 trees on this land.”

The Fankhausers have had their turbine only since June and look forward to evaluating the operation after they go through the windy spring season.

• Does it attract lightning?

The tower used to, but since Pennington Gas erected a large tower several years ago, Fankhausers’ property has never been hit.

 • Did you have to obtain permits?

He didn’t need a permit for the tower since it’s been in place for three decades. There was nothing to work out with Consumers Energy since Fankhausers’ system is not connected to the electrical grid.

• What are the upkeep costs?

The turbine came with a 25-year warranty. Once a year nuts and bolts should be checked for tightness and the mounting pole should be greased.

• Do you think the school should buy a turbine?

“I think a turbine would be good for a learning application,” Marvin said, “but not to service the school [with electricity].”

• When will it pay for itself?

“Maybe never,” he said, but that’s the reason he bought it. “We bought it for a hobby, but it could run the freezer in a power outage and save a lot of food from rotting.”

According to company literature, four batteries could keep a large appliance operating for four days.

Besides that, he said, it could provide lights and warmth after a storm and that would make his wife very happy.

You can’t put a price on that feature.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016