High-tech turbine catches on

TRAVERSE CITY – "Power to the People!" is the slogan for Garth Ward's Traverse City-based company, Michigan Wind Power (MWP).

Ward has become one of the first dealers in the country selling a more advanced form of wind turbine to individual households. With Ward's help, individuals can supplement their energy with wind and solar power and partly or entirely sidestep the utility companies. He says that alternative energy is no longer just a solution for large facilities and that now the average homeowner can afford to tap into this technology.

"In the last three months of 2008 I sold 16 units. We have done six units in Leelanau County and three units in Grand Traverse, three units across the Mackinac Bridge and eight units in downtown Mackinaw City. In 2009 we expect to sell 100 units," said Ward.

Ward, a 30-year building industry veteran, sells both the Air-X and Skystream 3.7 wind turbines, manufactured by Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Southwest Wind Power. The Air-X unit is a 12v – 24v or 48v unit that will charge a small battery bank for a little cabin, motorhome or boat.

"When the battery bank is full, these units turn off so as not to overcharge the batteries," Ward said.

The Skystream, however, is another story. This unit wires directly into your home's power panel (breaker box) "without any other power management boxes hanging on the walls."

At wind speeds averaging just 12 miles per hour, the Skystream produces about 400 to 500 kilowatt-hours per month, according to the manufacturer. The equipment is ordered online and delivered to the customer's home.

"One can expect 200-700 kilowatt-hours a month from this unit depending on the wind," said Ward.

When your home doesn't need the extra power produced, it goes back through the wires to the power company. That power is recorded by the power company and is the first power you will use the following month.

The power bill on Ward's 3,000 square-foot home is about $35-$50 month, he said.

"The cost of wind units in this production range in the past were from $40,000-$60,000, with batteries and inverters hanging on your walls. With this new technology in power management, we can give you a unit for between $12,000-$15,000."

When the homeowner has his or her permits ready, the installation can be completed in about three weeks.

Michigan now has more than 35 companies supplying components or services to the wind energy industry, a number that is quickly growing.

For more information on Garth's company, see www.michiganwindpower.net.