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Detroit News

July 5, 2011 http://detnews.com/article/20110705/BIZ/107050363

Rooftop turbines give new meaning to being green

MELISSA BURDEN
/ The Detroit News

Wayne —The apparatus affixed to Ted Klein's roof looks like a giant black bicycle wheel, turning many heads and stopping walkers in a residential neighborhood off Wayne Road.

The 84-year-old retiree is believed to be among the first in southeast Michigan to buy a Honeywell Wind Turbine by WindTronics, a gearless turbine measuring six feet in diameter that can generate electricity with wind speeds as low as 2 mph.

"I thought maybe in some small way I'm one of the pioneers for a greener America," said Klein, who sold Ford Motor Co. stock to cover the more than $8,200 cost for installation and the turbine that rises several feet above the roofline of his two-story house. It's been up — and turning — for about six weeks.

Muskegon-based WindTronics created the 241-pound turbine and manufactures it in Windsor, said Brian Levine, vice president of business development and marketing for WindTronics.

The turbines, which have directional fins to capture wind, have been available commercially since late last year and can be installed on roofs and poles. Nationally, the turbines are available through energy dealers (including 26 in Michigan) and even at some Ace Hardware and True Value locations.

WindTronics has sold the product internationally, including in some Third World countries that lack electricity, said Levine, who added the company has a licensing agreement with Honeywell International Inc. to use its name.

"We've sold thousands of units across the planet and probably the biggest reason is this product fits in almost everywhere," Levine said of the $5,200 device. "This product is quiet, small, it doesn't vibrate. Animals can see it."

WindTronics' turbine is gearless (traditional wind turbines include gears in the turbine center that blades turn) and its blade tip system uses magnets and other parts around an outer rim to capture power. That power turns the turbine into a generator, said Jen Ferenz, WindTronics' marketing coordinator.

The power generated can run through an inverter that converts it to household electricity and relays it to the electrical panel, said Mike Bratcher, principal of Bratcher Electric Inc. in Wayne. It will reduce electrical use and your utility bill, he said.

WindTronics expects it will have a minimum of 100 wind turbines operational in Michigan by the end of the year, Ferenz said.

Tax credits help with costs

A federal tax credit worth 30 percent of a small wind turbine's cost, including installation, is available through the end of 2016 and is helping spur sales, WindTronics says. And in other states, credits and incentives also are lowering the price tag, and in some cases can cover up to 80 percent of costs, Levine said. Michigan does not have a state incentive.

The turbine costs between $11,000 for a roof installation and $13,000 for a pole installation — more affordable than other residential wind turbine systems that might run $25,000 to $30,000, Bratcher said.

"By far it's the best bang for the buck and virtually no maintenance," said Bratcher, who installed Klein's wind turbine and recently sold another unit to a Wayne homeowner who lives a block from Klein and wants it installed on a 50-foot pole.

Bratcher said he's planning to install a Honeywell Wind Turbine on the roof of his family's longtime business on Van Born Road and has done site visits, both for commercial and residential installations, in Saline, Southfield, Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit.

"This is not for everybody," said Bratcher, who added areas near lakes and open fields work well. WindTronics recommends spots with at least an average 12 mph wind speed. "We need some wind."

Power depends on the area

Klein's turbine sits in an area rated with average wind speeds between 8 and 12 mph, Bratcher said. To the west is an empty lot, and to the east, another home.

The turbine is quiet, Klein said, and sitting on his porch you couldn't hear it as it turned. "It's right over our upstairs bedroom, and you go up there and you can't hear it," he said.

Ted's wife, Judith, said no one, including their neighbors, has complained to them about noise or the look of the turbine.

"Most everyone is curious about it," she said.

Ted Klein, who first saw the turbine in Popular Mechanics magazine, said it's too early to see a difference in his electric bill, but he expects it will pay for itself over time.

"If it takes 10 years, it's still less than I was paying," he said, adding he plans to connect 12-volt batteries to his inverter to store energy in case of a power failure.

The Honeywell Wind Turbine on average generates about 1,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or about an eighth of the 11,000 kilowatt-hours an average household uses a year.

"Some will produce more," Ferenz said. "It just depends on the wind."

But Trudy Forsyth, a wind project leader for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said WindTronics' price to generate 1,500 kilowatt-hours a year is expensive.

"This is a real small amount of kilowatt hours," she said.

The federal laboratory based in Golden, Colo., doesn't recommend roof-based wind turbines like Klein's because wind speed is reduced, turbulence is intensified and there are safety concerns about pieces falling onto the ground, Forsyth said.

"Roof-mounted turbines see a lot of turbulence, and increased turbulence not only reduces the productivity or creation of electricity," but also can lead to premature failure of the system.

In 2009, less than 2 percent of the U.S. small wind turbine market was in urban or rooftop settings, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The association said 9,800 small wind turbines sold in the U.S. in 2009, generating $82.4 million in sales, the latest year data was available, though manufacturers expect sales will grow exponentially through 2015.

Many small wind turbines are available in the U.S., such as those from Norman, Okla.-based Bergey Windpower Co. Its products are available at some Lowe's stores nationally.

Levine said it takes one to 15 years for the Honeywell Wind Turbine to pay for itself through energy cost savings, depending on the amount of wind, the electric rate and incentives and rebates available.

"Michigan falls more into the middle category because you pay above the average for your power, and you do have the federal (incentives) and you do have a lot of water and a lot of open areas," Levine said.

mburden@detnews.com

(313) 222-2319

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