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Thursday, July 30, 2009 11:24 am

Personal windmill

Loami family’s energy experiment could determine success of larger wind projects

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Linda Norbut Suits supports turbine sprawl.
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE

Being laid off didn’t stop Linda Norbut Suits from doing what she and her husband, Duston, felt was necessary.

After a tornado three years ago ripped through Loami, where the couple lives with their two daughters, and destroyed their barn, Linda and Duston decided renewable energy should be part of the rebuild.

Solar was very expensive so they settled on a wind turbine. Even after Linda, a curator with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, was laid off last year when several historic sites were temporarily shut down, they moved ahead with the project, which she said costs about as much as a new car.

“There’s a payback period but it’ll save us money,” Linda explains. “But it was just the right thing to do.”

They aren’t exactly energy hogs anyway. They run window air conditioning units as little as possible, dry laundry outdoors on a clothesline and in the winter get much of their heat from a wood stove. Linda also works a four-day work schedule and carpools when she can.

Two weeks ago, they flipped the switch on their new wind turbine. In the time the blades have been spinning, the turbine has produced about 23 kilowatt hours of electricity and prevented 24.1 pounds of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere. That’s according to computer software that tracks both energy output and RPMs of the turbine in real time.

The energy generated is credited by their utility company, Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative in Auburn. If the turbine generates more electricity than the family uses, the utility buys it back.

The Suitses have been told that theirs is one of the first to be erected under Sangamon County zoning rules for windmills.

The structure, about 60 feet in height, isn’t tall enough to necessitate an environmental impact study under the rules (though a variance was required to place the turbine within 100 feet of their home).

So far they haven’t had any of the problems often attributed to wind turbines. The ground below isn’t strewn with the carcasses of birds and bats nor has anyone in the family complained of constant ringing said to be caused by the whoosh of the blades.

“Feral cats kill more birds than wind turbines,” Linda says. And only their dog, Sweet Potato, seems to be frightened by the sound, which is most pronounced when standing directly beneath the windmill.

Despite its relative noiselessness, the turbine has created buzz among curious neighbors in the area, which prompted the Suitses to plan an open house for sometime in September. County zoning officials as well as the Champaign-based contractor who installed the windmill will be on hand to answer questions.

The Suits’s smaller scale experience might also serve to address concerns about the proposed Meridian One Wind Farm being planned for their area. It has ignited controversy among neighbors in western Sangamon County.

Linda says she has questions about the wind farm project but doesn’t oppose it. Nor does she consider ubiquitous windmills to be a panacea for our energy needs.

“The way we should go is everybody should use less,” she says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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