High profile wind turbine dedicated in Muskegon

November 3, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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The roof-mounted Swift Wind Turbine assembled by Cascade Engineering is moving into full production, coinciding with the dedication in Muskegon last week of the first Swift installed in Michigan.

A host of dignitaries, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Cascade Engineering CEO Fred Keller, gathered at the Frauenthal Performing Arts Center in downtown Muskegon, where a Swift installed on top of the five-story building was spinning in the brisk wind, generating up to 1.5 kilowatts of power.

At the dedication ceremony, Granholm noted she had recently signed energy legislation that she said will create jobs, diversify Michigan’s economy and ensure clean, affordable energy for Michigan consumers. She said Cascade Engineering's commitment to renewable energy makes it a "tremendous partner" with the state of Michigan.

"It's a brand new business for us and we are very excited about the pent-up demand we have for this," Keller told the Business Journal.

The Swift turbine installed on the roof of the Frauenthal Center was purchased by the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, which owns the building, through a donation from Louis and Ann Eklund of Fleet Engineers Inc., a Muskegon manufacturing company.

The foundation also set up an educational display in the lobby with monitors and gauges that show exactly how much electricity the turbine is producing, along with the wind speed and direction of the wind. The display also provides a record of the energy the turbine has already produced.

The Swift Rooftop Wind Energy System has been produced in Scotland for several years. Cascade Engineering is manufacturing the plastic rotor blades, and will assemble the completed Swift turbines from other components shipped from Scotland. Cascade Engineering has exclusive rights for production and distribution of the Swift turbines in the U.S. and Canada and expects to sell a thousand or more per year. A Swift sells for about $8,500, plus another $1,500 to $3,000 for installation, according to Keller.

"The real story here is that we converted a very expensive rotor … to an injection-molded product, which of course we are very good at, and as a result, we now have the distribution and manufacturing rights in North America," said Keller.

Cascade Engineering will be making all the rotors for Swift turbines, including those assembled in Europe.

The original design for the Swift rotor blades called for use of a more costly carbon fiber composite material. Cascade Engineering is known for its development of injection-molded plastic products for a variety of industries, including automotive, general industrial, medical products, solid waste containers and water filters used in underdeveloped areas of the world.

The tips of the rotor blades are enclosed in a ring about seven feet in diameter. The design results in a turbine that is "virtually vibration free and very quiet," according to Keller. He noted that because it can be mounted on the roof of a home, it reduces the cost of installation dramatically.

Based on average wind speed fluctuations, including times when there is not enough wind to generate any electricity, the Swift is estimated to produce an average of 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in one year. That is estimated to equal about one-fifth of the annual electricity consumption of the average American home. Representatives of Cascade Engineering said the Swift is intended to supplement the electrical supply to a home, but more than one can be installed on the roof of a home or building.

At a wind speed of about 31 miles per hour, a Swift should generate up to 1,500 kilowatts. There could be times when a Swift generates more electricity than is needed, and the excess would be fed into the power company grid to which the property owner is connected.

That fact, coupled with new state legislation signed into law in early October by Granholm, will provide an incentive to purchase small wind turbines, which are those of 100 kilowatts of capacity or smaller. The Renewable Portfolio Standards established for Michigan also include a new "net metering" law that mandates that the electrical utilities buy the excess power from a homeowner's wind turbine at retail rates, not at a discount, as had previously been the case.

"So if you produce more energy than you are using at any given time, you actually do run your meter backward at retail rates," said Keller.

More good news came with the recent Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, enacted by the federal government to provide "bail out" funds for the troubled financial sector of the U.S. economy. The Act also provides a tax credit to consumers who buy a small wind turbine for home, farm or business use. The credit is equal to 30 percent of the total installed cost of the system, limited to $4,000 for businesses. For homeowners, the credit is limited to the smaller of $4,000 or $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity — which would mean $1,500 toward a Swift installation.

The state of Michigan does not offer any tax credits for installation of small wind turbines.

The Frauenthal Center wind turbine, which went into operation in August, was the first made by Cascade Engineering to be installed in Michigan. However, the first Swift ever made by Cascade was previously installed on the East Coast, according to Keller.

In mid-October, a Swift turbine built by Cascade was installed on a pole at the home of Doug and Sherrie Morrell in Polkton Township, north of Coopersville. Morrell also had solar panels installed at his home in August. He estimates he has about $33,000 invested in his wind and solar energy equipment at his seven-acre "hobby farm" where he raises horses, beef cattle, hay and corn. The equipment was installed by Bauer Power of Wayland, which is Cascade Engineering's authorized distributor for the Swift turbine.

"We felt this would be a good location for a wind generator," said Morrell. "We don’t have very many trees around us."

It's obviously high ground, too, which is important for maximum effectiveness of wind turbines.

"We can see the Grand Haven coal power stack from here," he said.

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