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Thursday, April 1, 2010 06:43 am

Wind turbine harnesses small town potential

Mt. Pulaski business installs turbine at local bank

John Wyss and Brian Barnick, an employee of Bassett’s Mechanical, Inc., climb the 120-foot tower outside Farmers Bank in Mt. Pulaski. Starting at the top and slowly working their way down, Wyss and Barnick inspected and secured the tower’s bearings.
The Farmers Bank of Mt. Pulaski sits on the town’s hilltop, approximately 700 feet above sea level, across from a courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law as a member of the Illinois 8th Judicial Circuit. Built in 1862, the oldest bank in Logan County is a large white structure with a sloping roof similar to a barn’s. A glance down South Washington Street reveals a typical small town Illinois scene: antique stores converted from historic buildings, murals featuring Lincoln, the local hardware store. But glance upward, and visitors are greeted by a 137-foot tower of renewable energy.

Last week, Central Illinois Wind and Solar installed a wind turbine at Farmers Bank capable of generating as much as two-thirds of the bank’s annual energy. The turbine, which sits atop a 120-foot tower, can provide up to 13,200 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity per year, at an average of 11 miles per hour. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household consumes about 11,000 kwh per year.

Workers began constructing the turbine, manufactured by Bergey Windpower in Norman, Okla., Monday afternoon and completed installation by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Total cost is estimated at $67,000.

The Farmers Bank turbine is the second in the area, says John Wyss, owner of Central Illinois Wind and Solar in Mt. Pulaski. His company installed its first wind turbine at a private residence off of Illinois Route 121, between Mt. Pulaski and Lincoln.

Though his business is less than a year old, Wyss has already lined up his next project, another wind turbine in Latham, about eight miles away.

“When I first started, I thought maybe we’d do one [wind turbine] a year,” Wyss says. “But we’re doing our next one next week. We’ve had three in less than a year.”

Wyss is also co-owner of Bassett’s Mechanical Inc., a Mt. Pulaski heating and cooling company. His business partner, Dave Bassett, says he’s pleased so many people have taken interest in wind energy.

“When he started, everyone laughed, saying nobody would invest at $60,000 per wind turbine,” Bassett says.

But investing locally in renewable resources like wind power has proved fruitful, Wyss says. Projects like the Farmers Bank wind turbine give investors a chance to earn back their money through state and federal tax credits, he says. The resident who installed the wind turbine off Route 121 just received the 30 percent federal tax credit, Wyss says, and he’s also eligible for a state rebate, bringing his total out-of-pocket expenses down to one-third the original cost.

“We’re in a small town and we keep our business here,” Wyss says. “All the guys we hire are within a 15-mile radius. People know the people who are working for them. I think it helps the trust between the customers and us – staying local and trying to keep our employees local.”

Bassett says he’d like to see the business expand to include more residential units for homes and small farms, as well as larger turbines in places like Richland Community College in Decatur.

A unique feature of the turbine is its wireless readout. Wyss or Farmers Bank President Rick Volle can access the Internet and read a digital display which has been hooked to the turbine, giving an exact reading of how much power the bank is generating at any given time.

“We could be in Florida on vacation and know exactly what the wind turbine’s doing, and what it’s made for power,” Wyss says.

For more information, contact John Wyss at Central Ilinois Wind and Solar at 217-791-3765.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.


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