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FANCY GAP — The windmill-raising Thursday on Gary Horton's farm generated lots of interest in the community for the first attempt to make commercial-grade renewable energy in Carroll County.
Dozens of people, including Virginia state Senator Roscoe Reynolds and business developers Dallas Garrett and Bernie Deck, showed up on the farm on the ridge to see what happened with the windmill installation by Red Hill General Store.
Participants, as they waited for the main event, got a cold soda and a seven-page sheaf of information on the Breezy 5.5, named from the number of kilowatts it can produce in a sustained wind.
"It's the first wind turbine in Carroll County of this size," said Tom Largen, owner of Red Hill General Store. "That's about enough energy in one year to power a normal-sized home.
"To put it in dollars and cents, we're hoping to achieve $75 to $100 a month reduction in your electricity."
Once the blades start to spin and reach 120 RPM, the power would flow from the turbine for use on Horton's farm, Largen said. Any excess electricity would go onto the power grid, for which the utility company would reimburse Horton.
Largen estimated the wind that evening at about 8 miles per hour, noting that the turbine needed more than 10 mph to turn.
Surveys show that Horton's portion of Carroll County has decent wind speeds, averaging around 13 to 15 mph. That means it rates about midway up the scale for a wind turbine placement.
Given ideal conditions, the device would create enough power to carry the load of an average home, he noted.
"We hope to make some electricity and be the first place in Carroll County to make renewable energy and feed it back into the grid," Largen told The Gazette.
The turbine sits on a 60-foot tower and has four 10-foot-long blades made out of yellow poplar produced in Carroll County, he said.
In fact, many of the components of the windmill were sourced locally.
Many of the parts come off-the-self from a local farm supply or electrical supply.
That's part of the point that Red Hill wanted to make — that the device is simple operate and simple to maintain, Largen said.
"If something tears up, it's a simple go to Hillsville, go to Mount Airy, and buy the replacements and have your machine back up and running in a few days," he said.
Normally, a generator that makes five kilowatts of electricity would cost about $30,000, Largen said. But the Breezy 5.5 starts at $15,000, depending on the site.
Given government incentives, that gets the price almost under $10,000, he said. With monthly savings, that means a payback on the investment in a few years.
Buying a wind turbine locks its owner into free fuel costs for the life of the device, he said. With twice-a-year maintenance, the turbine should last more than 20 years.
People with the wind and enough land, about an acre, to put up the tower and the turbine can go green and make their own electricity without creating any pollution.
"Going green, we're all for it, but in Carroll County we're always looking to save the dollar," Largen said. "The electricity bills have got so high, and this is one way to offset the electricity bill."
And if wind power isn't right for someone, maybe they have a stream where they could take advantage of hydro turbines, which Red Hill could also provide.
After 7 p.m., workers started up a tow truck and used its cable to haul the wind turbine and tower upright — to the applause of the crowd from back behind the fence, where they were sent for safety reasons.
It didn't take too long before the device swiveled into the breeze like a weather vane, and the blades did move slowly for a few moments.
Attendee Olen Quesenberry of Gladeville came out to the farm as a long-time wind power booster, curious to see what would happen.
He's had an interest in this sort of renewable energy ever since the 1940s — when his father had a farm at the Blue Ridge Parkway, Quesenberry first ran across a product called a Wincharger.
In those days, the homes didn't have access to the utility company infrastructure, he explained. They would use that product to charge up a battery for use in the evenings.
Peoples' power needs were a lot more modest back then, he recalled. They often used the battery to light a couple low wattage bulbs or the radio to have an evening's entertainment.
"It was just a step above a candle or a lantern," he said about the battery powered lights.
In his personal travels since, Quesenberry knows that the United States has fallen behind places like Germany in generating renewable energy.
He wants to see more such efforts become successful here, just like around the parkway all those years ago.
Putting up a windmill in Fancy Gap is not a new idea — it's been done to power people's homes before.
"All along the parkway, there were several Winchargers," Quesenberry remembered. "What goes around comes around."
Garrett, head of the Small Business Development Center based in the Crossroads Institute, said he admired Red Hill's green energy initiative.
There's a lot of interest by entrepreneurs for clean energy — as shown by the fact that Garrett's working with four different clients with plans for wind, water and solar.
Garrett has not worked with Red Hill, but he plans to approach them.
As the past head of a composite materials company, Garrett said he learned the tricks of using lighter materials.
"My plans are to introduce myself to them and see what I can do to help them," he said.
He wants to provide assistance because of the possible economic development and job creation ramifications to having more green energy companies in this area.
The wind surveys show there is potential for wind power in the mountains.
"We are in an area where it could work," Garrett said. "It's pretty exciting to think one or more of these folks will come up with a model that will work."
• For more information on wind and water turbines from Red Hill contact Sarah Jones, director of marketing and business development, at (800) 251-8824 ext 2015 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The website is located at http://redhillgeneralstore.com/.