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Smithsburg brothers get wind of energy-saving strategy

November 29, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

SMITHSBURG -- John Jacques uses a wood furnace, turns off lights when he leaves a room, and is in the process of having a geothermal heating and cooling system hooked up to his home to help reduce his energy costs.

On Nov. 14, Jacques took his energy-saving strategy one step further by becoming, along with his brother Brian, the first in Washington County to have wind turbines installed to help generate electricity for their homes.

"Just trying to conserve," both environmentally and financially, said John Jacques, 64. "Global warming and that sort of thing, I don't know what to make of. But makes sense to conserve energy."

Brian Jacques, 51, said he liked the idea of not using fossil fuels and wanted to reduce energy costs, which the brothers expect to continue to rise.

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The brothers live next to each other, east of Smithsburg and west of South Mountain. Each had a 50-foot-high tower installed on their land, with a Skystream 3.7 wind turbine atop it.

Dan DiVito, the county's zoning administrator and director of permits and inspections, said there's been a lot of interest in wind turbines. As part of a recently approved temporary residential stimulus package in the county, the permit fee for alternative energy sources such as wind turbines is being waived, DiVito said.

The Jacqueses applied for wind turbines while the county was in the middle of changing its ordinance regarding wind turbines for electrical generation, DiVito said. Until recently, wind turbines were permitted only if they were an accessory to an agricultural operation.

Crunching numbers

The brothers were thinking about putting up wind turbines for a while, but didn't move forward until this year because the expanded federal Recovery Act provides a tax credit for wind turbines. They also are expecting state grants, making the project more affordable, John Jacques said.

The residential energy-efficient property credit allows homeowners to apply, on their 2009 federal income tax return, for a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the project cost for a wind turbine or other qualifying alternative energy equipment, according to an Internal Revenue Service press release.

Each of the brothers also obtained approval for a $6,000 Windswept grant through the Maryland Energy Administration, John Jacques said. That grant program was reopened in October after funds became available through the Recovery Act, according to the agency's Web site.

The brothers did some of the work themselves -- digging the conduit trench and installing the conduit, and building the foundation for the turbine's pole. By doing that, buying and installing each turbine cost approximately $16,000 compared to the typical $24,000 price tag, John Jacques said.

Even with the grant and tax credit, Jacques said he doesn't know how long it will take for the wind turbine to pay for itself.

When is it windy enough?

"It's an experiment for us. We may or may not get our money back out of this," John Jacques said.

He's hoping to eliminate his monthly electric bill -- except for mandatory charges -- but has to wait and see how well the turbine generates power.

If a wind turbine produces more power than the customer uses, a credit is applied to future bills, according to Allegheny Energy's Web site.

Jacques said his monthly electric bill before installing the turbine was $50 because only he and his wife live in the house, and he heats the home with wood. When he used electric baseboard heat, the monthly bill was $200 during the winter.

During the turbine's first 10 days, it was windy enough on four days to produce electricity, John Jacques said. It also was windy a fifth day, but the turbine needed adjustment that day.

"His has been spinning quite a bit and mine has not," Brian Jacques said more than a week ago. "The wind was coming out of the east and I'm sheltered from the east wind a bit," the operator of Edgemont Orchards added.

Last Monday, John Jacques' wind turbine blades were spinning frequently due to wind from the west, while the wind turbine on his brother's property, closer to South Mountain, was often still.

Brian Jacques said Sunday that his wind turbine had produced about 50 kilowatts of power since Friday, but it will still probably need adjusting to take advantage of winds from the east.

Placement is key to making the investment worthwhile, John Jacques said. He estimates his land is at 1,038 feet above sea level, while his brother's is at around 1,222 feet above sea level.

The wind turbine needs at least 7 1/2 mph wind to start spinning, and an average wind speed of 12 mph or greater to make it economically viable, said Carlos Fernandez, sales and installation manager for Potomac Wind Energy in Frederick County, Md. The Jacques brothers got their turbines from that company.

Ideally, a wind turbine should be 200 feet away from or 20 feet above any obstruction, Fernandez said.

John Jacques said he expects much of the wind to come during fall, winter and spring, when more fronts movie through the area.

He said he will know better in six months to a year how much power the turbine will generate. Until then, he doesn't really know how effective his investment will be.

"My parents went through the Depression. I try to spend money wisely," John Jacques said.

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