Wind & Wine: Turbine, solar to power up vineyard

LEELANAU CO. – Randy Woods has the perfect property for installing a wind turbine.

Woods built Wooden Fish Vineyard six years ago on a high ridge off Hohnke Road in Leelanau County. He had always envisioned the land to be perfect for growing grapes with its excellent frost drainage. Now that his business is established, phase two is currently underway: wind turbine construction.

"It is the same high ridge that was approached by a commercial wind farm company offering leases for the installation of turbines equal to the one on M-72 and Gray Road," said Woods.

The turbine project promises to supplement nearly 100 percent of the property's electrical needs, with a portion provided by solar power.

Woods originally contracted Randy Smith, owner of Renewable Services in Williamsburg, about his passive solar system that preheats the property's water system, which needed some upgrades. Smith's visit to Wooden Fish soon led to discussion about possibilities for a fully wind-powered vineyard.

"I sell 'all things renewable' focusing in on solar and wind electricity and solar hot water systems. I design systems to meet the owner's needs selecting from multiple manufacturers based on price, output and owner considerations," said Smith.

The idea of a wind turbine big enough to power the entire vineyard began to take shape. After some fact gathering and figuring of electric averages, Smith suggested a 100-foot tower, so that the turbine would be above the treetops and in clean air.

"With any job you're going to run into challenges, and this was no exception," said Woods.

Plans first had to be reviewed by a local engineer to satisfy local building inspections, then soil borings were done to insure proper soil was present because the footings are massive.

"The tower is 'typically' the biggest wild card in a wind energy system," said Smith. "The project has had some delays but all-in-all it is going very well. The winter is also a very challenging time for construction projects."

The first important step in turbine erection is a proper property assessment. "Location, location, location. Location on your property, within your township and to your neighbors…all matter," said Smith. "Mr. Woods has a great project with a 10kW Ventera wind electric system."

The Ventera is made in Duluth, Minn.

Based on his electrical averages and heating with propane, which has variable costs, Smith and Woods were able to determine that a 10kW turbine would replace the need for propane after installing electric heat.

"It would generate enough power for the entire vineyard, running water pumps, powering lights, welders and other shop tools. The turbine is designed to operate most efficiently on about 12 mph of wind," said Woods.

"There are a lot of small systems going up every week here in Michigan," said Jennifer Alderado, executive director at Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. GLREA organizes the annual Michigan Energy Fair, June 26-28 at the Manistee Co. Fairgrounds (www.glrea.org). "I think we're building ourselves up to be a state that will be able to handle a robust wind energy market, not only for system manufacturing, but for system installation," she added.

As Michigan's wind power industry develops, distribution and installation businesses like Renewable Services will have more choices for local manufacturing partners like Mariah Wind Power in Manistee or Cascade Engineering and Bergey Engineering in Grand Rapids.

"The idea of renewable energy is exciting. I think you have to look at the big picture and understand that your investment will take some time to recoup. I think we have just begun to scratch the surface of wind and solar. The products that are just now being developed will be even more efficient and, I hope, more affordable," said Woods. BN

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