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    Homegrown Power | Fall 2012 Out Here Magazine

    More rural landowners are harnessing the wind for their energy needs

    Bernard Mollberg with a Skystream wind turbine in the background
    Bernard Mollberg invested in a large wind turbine to lower his electric bills and live more sustainably.
    Out Here

    By Leslie Vandivier

    Photography by Kevin Vandivier

    The wind turbine keeps a steady whirring as it catches the breeze atop the high mesa overlooking the Blanco and Pedernales River valleys in Texas Hill Country. The sound is as beautiful as a perfectly tuned baby grand to Bernard Mollberg, a master piano restorer who had the turbine installed on his 20-acre property.

    "I like the whirring sound it makes, because when those blades are spinning, I know I'm saving money off my electric bill," he says with a laugh.

    Mollberg, of Blanco, Texas, is among a growing number of private property owners who are investing in equipment to harness wind energy and lower their electric bills. Wind turbines were once associated primarily with large commercial wind farms in which dozens of the three-blade tubular steel towers convert kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy on a mass level.

    Mollberg had a 45-foot Skystream wind turbine erected on his property in late 2010 to power all the buildings on his property and remains pleased with his decision.

    "The process was simpler than I expected, and took just over 30 days from placing the first call to Robert Webb of Revolt Wind Power in Austin, to the final installation day," he says. "It was easy once they selected the best spot for the wind tower."

    Rising energy costs are making more rural homeowners consider alternative power sources, such as the technology available in wind generators such as the Skystream, which is the first of its kind as a grid-tied unit, Webb says.

    First, though, they usually need a primer in wind energy.

    "Folks are curious about installing a wind generator on their land and confused about the difference between a windmill and a wind turbine," Webb says. "A wind turbine converts kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy. If the mechanical energy is used to produce electricity, it's known as a wind generator. If the mechanical energy is used to drive machinery, such as for grinding grain or pumping water, that's known as a windmill."



    If wind power might be for you, first have a site evaluation done by an expert to determine whether your property is in a suitable wind zone to successfully generate electricity, advises Robert Webb, of Revolt Wind Power in Austin, Texas.

    Costs are as varied as the turbine models and the companies that install them, but for reference, a Skystream unit like Bernard Mollberg's is between $18,000 and $24,000 fully installed, depending on height and other variables.

    You can seek funding assistance via grants and/or loans. The federal government offers incentives to eligible rural homeowners, farmers, and ranchers who invest in renewable energy devices. Mollberg, for example, received a federal tax credit in 2010 for 30 percent of his investment.

    Visit these government websites for more information:

    Mollberg's journey toward a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle began in the mid-90s when he became fed up with high energy costs and began educating himself on the principles of sustainable building and renewable energy.

    "The more I studied, the more I became convinced that the greatest challenge our civilization faces is the transition from carbon-based fuels," he says.

    So, in 1997, he ventured out to the Texas Hill Country, determined to reclaim his country roots dug deep in rural Blanco County long ago by his grandmother who'd been born there.

    On top of his 1,700-foot mesa, he applied the sustainable principles he'd studied, beginning with the construction of his piano shop, with its adobe-style, foot-thick, rammed-earth walls and passive solar, which requires no pumps or fans to move the heat. He also designed and built a passive solar home and added a rainwater collection system to supply water for both home use and for their herb and flower gardens.

    The turbine doesn't provide 100 percent of their energy needs, but it's doing what he intended.

    "I'm not totally off the grid, but the wind power provides 20-35 percent of all our electricity needs," he says.

    Sometimes, during breezier months, the turbine produces surplus electricity, providing a credit from his electric company toward future usage.

    So now, instead of Mollberg paying rising energy costs, the electric company is paying him.

    Leslie Vandivier is an Austin, Texas, writer.


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