Harnessing wind power to cut costs

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Ohio dealer Happy Days Boating installed a wind turbine to offset its high electricity bills

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Businesses are doing whatever they can these days to cut costs and save money. Often it's as simple as turning down the air conditioner or turning off the lights when no one's around to shave a few dollars off the electric bill each month.

Happy Days Boating in Port Clinton, Ohio, has found a way to cut its costs even more dramatically. Earlier this year, the dealership installed an electricity-generating wind turbine.

"We were complaining to ourselves about skyrocketing energy costs," says John Schroeder, vice president of the 42-year-old family-owned full-service dealership that sells Rinker, SportCraft, Baha, Seaswirl and Parker boats. With a total of six buildings, including a 12,000-square-foot heated showroom, electricity bills can run as high as $2,600 a month.

"We started thinking, We always have wind," Schroeder says.

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In fact, wind is considered Ohio's top source of renewable energy. Detailed wind maps show substantial wind resources along the glacial ridges in the central part of the state, across the farmlands in the northwest, and on and around Lake Erie, according to a 2006 report from the Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center.

The Department of Energy measures wind power from Class 1 (weakest) to Class 7. If winds on a particular site are at least Class 2 (annual wind speeds averaging 9.8 to 11.5 mph), it may be suitable for wind generation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Happy Days Boating is a little more than a mile from Lake Erie's Sandusky Bay, and Schroeder says the average wind speed at the dealership is 14 mph. Schroeder's brother, Paul, works for Fellhauer Mechanical Systems, a Port Clinton-based provider of electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems for commercial, residential and industrial projects. Fellhauer put Happy Days Boating in contact with Engineered Process Systems, an authorized reseller and wind turbine installation specialist based in Huron, Ohio. EPS installs turbines ranging from 10 kW per hour for residential use to 250 kW per hour for large energy consumers, such as water filtration plants and governmental or educational campuses.

A site survey that included examining government wind maps of the area determined there is enough wind for a turbine to make economic sense, Schroeder says.

"They sized us up one to cover all our energy needs," he says. The turbine, manufactured by Canadian-based Entegrity Wind, consists of a 100-foot tower supporting three 25-foot-long blades. The turbine peaks at 50 kW per hour.

EPS says on its Web site that this is its most popular model because of its size and affordability and that it is ideal for small and midsize industrial users. However, at a cost of more than a quarter-million dollars for complete assembly and installation, the turbine would have been out of Schroeder's price range if not for a grant through the state's renewable energy program and some additional financing.

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"The state grant covered half of the $258,000 cost," says Schroeder, who bought the dealership with his brothers-in-law Kevin and Matt Gottron - sons of the original owners - nine years ago. "That was a big sticking point. We couldn't have done it without the state grant."

In February, before Happy Days Boating got its first electric bill with the turbine, Schroeder calculated average monthly savings of $1,900 and expected the break-even point, factoring in financing interest costs, at about eight years. The actual savings is turning out to be a little less than half what he estimated. As of late March, the turbine had produced 13,668 kW of electricity since installed in early January. With electricity costing 15 cents per hour, that has translated into a total savings of $2,050 for Happy Days Boating over a nearly two-month period, which would mean about $12,000 per year in savings. With the modified savings, that would now put the break-even point at about 15 years.

Regardless, Schroeder says the benefits of the turbine are greater than simply saving money. "It does have a positive factor with our customers. They ask many questions about it," he says. "And people stop in just for the purpose of [getting] information about one for their personal use."

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.

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