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The power, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Dana Campbell Vineyards is noteworthy for several reasons, but two I’ll mention here are a tasting room with spectacular valley views and a 120-foot windmill that generates 75% of the facility’s electricity.

Private windmills are rare, so when I noticed the one at Dana Campbell, I thought I’d inquire about it. Vineyard owner Pat Flannery graciously joined me to discuss the topic.

Flannery, a retired development director, and his wife, Ashland Public Works Director Paula Brown, purchased two adjacent properties, one in 1997, the other in 2006. To retain their Exclusive Farm Use status, the couple decided to grow grapes, which are sent to a facility in Medford to be processed into wine.

While contractors were engaged in converting an existing residence into their public tasting room, Brown and Flannery stumbled upon a magazine article touting private wind power. The couple hired energy technician Ron Cleghorn, who assisted them in applying for grants and installing their tower. The subsidies they received covered roughly five-sixths of their costs.

Inadvertently, the vineyard was perfectly situated on an exposed hillside that receives plenty of wind. By generating its own power, the vineyard cut enough of its electrical bill to recoup out-of-pocket installation expenses in 2-1/2 years. With the system continuing to provide monthly financial benefits, Brown and Flannery say they are pleased with their windmill.

However, it turns out that in the broader view of things, private windmills, just like their industrial cousins, are subject to issues of “intermittency.” Turbines stop running when windspeeds fall below 6.5 mph. Because Dana Campbell’s system is integrated into Pacific Power’s grid, the vineyard receives electricity even when winds die down.

On the flip side, should windspeeds run high, the vineyard’s energy-conversion equipment would become overwhelmed were it not partnered with a secondary system that “curtails” excess electrical production, turning it into unutilized heat.

In other words, wind technology is not yet at a point where electrical surges can be captured, stored and later employed effectively.

Given this, how practical would it be for other Ashlanders to install wind towers to offset their personal electrical usage while reducing their carbon footprint?

Ashland Electric Director Tom McBartlett said that in theory electricity generated by private windmills could be integrated into Ashland’s grid in a manner similar to solar panels, with the caveat that towers must meet zoning and safety regulations.

A wind turbine needs an average speed of 11.5 mph or greater to function. Within Ashland city limits, the surrounding mountains serve as windbreaks. Only a few exposed areas receive windspeeds high enough to run a turbine.

Windmills also require sufficient land. In order to forestall legal liabilities, towers need to be installed at least as far in from property lines as they are high. With towers mandated to be at least 60 feet taller than adjacent trees, homeowners with small yards could not qualify.

Ultimately, funding might be the biggest obstacle. Installation costs are not small, while federal, state and private grants are constantly in flux. Brown and Flannery’s tower cost $120,000 in 2009.

The Oregon Energy Trust has pulled its financial support for private windmills (www.energytrust.org/renewable-energy/renewable-energy-wind-power/).

If any readers are curious as to whether a windmill might be appropriate for their property, check out the tower (and the wine) at Dana Campbell Vineyards, 1320 N. Mountain Ave., open daily from 1 to 6 p.m. Reach them at 541-482-3798 or see www.danacampbellvineyards.com.

Courtesy danacampbellvineyards.com