Silent, low-cost Windspires — wind turbines built on a vertical orientation — have arrived in the Rogue Valley and are powering two-thirds of the domestic needs of an Ashland farm at a fraction of the cost of earlier green technologies, say the owners.
Fine woodworker Morgan Pierce recently installed two 30-foot tall spires, which spin with eerie silence beside the family hops field, their long vertical blades floating on repelling magnets.
The wind turbines, each costing $10,000 installed, are not oriented to wind direction like the earlier, horizontal-axis windmills but sit there gleaming in the sun, symmetrical and equally open to wind from any direction.
Unlike earlier wind turbines, the new ones can't endanger birds, who see the spinning mechanism as a solid feature to be avoided, says Pierce, a student in the Sustainable Building Advisor program at Southern Oregon University.
Pierce chose the system, which powers 60 to 70 percent of the needs for his family's farm, because it penciled out as only 25 percent of the cost of a solar system or earlier wind turbines, and they'll spin in almost any weather conditions, cloudy or sunny, big wind or small.
Each turbine generates 1.2 kilowatts per hour of electricity at low wind and 6 kwh at its peak, he adds.
"They're all made from recycled aviation parts. The 20-foot blades are from Apache helicopters. They start spinning at 5 miles per hour and go faster till around 60 mph. The old wind turbines didn't kick in till about 26 mph," says Pierce. "These haven't stopped spinning since I put them in."
Pierce adds that he was also persuaded to harness wind energy because of the "hard to recycle toxins" in photovoltaic cells — and because the Windspires are made of recycled aluminum and high-grade steel, with no toxins to think about at the end of their life.
The system is made in Detroit by Mariah Power (www.mariahpower.com), a converted auto-parts manufacturer, and is marketed here by Green E Technologies in Talent.
The system, according to www.greenetechologies.net, runs from $9,000 to $12,000. They'll pay for themselves in energy savings in five years, the company says.
A 30-percent federal grant and $2,000 to $3,000 state tax credits can bring the net cost to $3,800, says Green E co-owner Noah Soule.
"The spires will handle a strong wind. They don't shut off till 60 mph and will free-wheel up to 120 mph," says Soule. "You can space them close together, and birds avoid them. They look like a solid pillar to birds."
The unit has an antenna, sending wind and energy generation data to your computer.
County permits for installation have been "a bit steep" at almost $1,000 dollars, but, Pierce adds, "the county has been very cooperative, and they keep up with alternative energy systems."
A layoff and an informed "green" girlfriend have been the inspirations for Pierce's passion for sustainable energy and farming — they have a half-acre organic garden now — and he notes that "we're moving in the right direction toward a truly green planet. A lot of building materials are totally green now, and the floodgates are about to open."