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Mainers Show Interest in Backyard Windmills

Fri November 21, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

TURNER, Maine (AP) When Bruce and Lindy Gallup installed a 50-ft. wind turbine on their property a year ago, they counted on cutting their electrical costs and reducing their impact on the environment. They didn’t plan on all the curious people who pulled into their driveway with questions about the machine.

Mainers are showing an increased interest in backyard windmills for their personal needs.

More than 50 small residential-scale wind turbines were installed in the state last year, including one at the Kennebunkport home of former president George H.W. Bush, according to a report form the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development. The panel expects 150 to be installed this year.

The Gallups now turn to the $15,000 wind turbine and a solar system for most of the electric needs on their 20-acre farm. Their monthly electric bills have gone from about $250 to $25.

There are plenty of others who are interested in the turbine, judging by the people who stop two or three times a week with questions on how much it cost, how much electricity it generates, how noisy it is and whether it’s worth it.

“We’ve become like the referral center,’’ Bruce Gallup said. “People constantly ask about it.’’

Wind turbines aren’t for everybody. They can be expensive — $14,000 to $19,000 installed — and need to be in places with plenty of wind and the right zoning ordinances.

But where the wind blows right, they can be the answer for people who want to take control of their electrical needs.

All Season Home Improvement, an Augusta-based contractor that says it is the nation’s largest installer of residential wind turbines, has put up 100 in the last two years and has another 35 installations scheduled in the coming weeks.

“It’s the only part of my construction business that is rapidly growing right now,’’ said President Bob Greig.

One of Greig’s 35 scheduled installations will be in the backyard of Dawn Marie and Ben Lehnus of Auburn.

Long concerned about the environment, the couple began looking seriously at renewable energy options about a year ago.

They considered solar panels and geothermal heat, but a wind turbine seemed the easiest and cheapest way to start, despite its $14,000 cost.

They think a 32-ft. wind turbine will cut their $100-a-month electric bill by up to 80 percent, but they’re as interested in producing clean, renewable energy as saving money. That’s what they told their son-in-law when he pointed out it would take them nearly 15 years to recoup the cost.

“He said ’Mama, you’re not going to live long enough to get your money back.’ And I said ’So what?’’’ Lehnus said. “Somebody’s going to benefit.’’

A lot of people are finding out they don’t live in the right place to have a wind turbine. David Coomer, owner of SolarMaine in Brooksville, said he’s been doing about 15 or 20 wind studies a year for homeowners looking to install, but only one or two turn out to have enough wind to make it practical.

“A lot of people think they have the wind and they don’t,’’ said Coomer.

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