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Is the answer blowing in the wind?

With all its wind and sun, Falcon could lead the way in generating alternative energy resources. Itís not ñ yet.Money is a major impediment. Systems that generate electricity from solar or wind power are expensive. Dave Hicks, a retired electrical engineer and alternative energy supporter, knows. ìMy financial investment is about what you would pay for a new SUV,î Hicks said.Nine years ago, Hicks moved from Colorado Springs to land west of Calhan, expressly for the wind. After several years of design and development, Hicks and his wife, Peggy, live entirely off the grid in their 2,040-square-foot home, which features all the standard electrical appliances.ìMy hybrid system consists of six wind turbines, eight photovoltaic solar panels, five power inverters, 28 storage batteries, wind and solar controllers, custom electronic circuitry and a gasoline backup generator, just in case,î Hicks said. ìIn nine years, my system has never been down. It can produce up to 1000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity per month.îThe one danger to his system is a lightening strike. Hicks said lightening hit one of his wind turbines and destroyed it. Another lightening bolt hit his control room and melted his watch band, he said.As for maintenance, Hicks said the batteries require the most attention. ìEvery few months, I add water to the batteries, clean and tighten the battery connections and equalize the voltage,î he said.ìA system like this can last up to 25 years or more,î he said. ìMy system is overkill, as systems costing far less will suffice in most cases.îHicksí system diverts excess power to devices that dissipate heat in the control room, but many alternative-energy enthusiasts want to generate enough energy for their own use and sell excess energy to the utility company. Being able to sell excess energy back to the utility company at or near the utilityís retail rate is called ìnet metering,î and it allows a quicker pay off for investments in solar panels and wind turbines.Darryl Edwards, manager of Mountain View Electric Association Member Services Department, said he hears from any customers interested in setting up wind and solar systems. ìBut when it comes right down to it, when youíre trying to lower your bill and trying to get a decent payback on what it costs to put in a wind generator or a photovoltaic system, the payback is long and people usually decide against it,î Edwards said. He estimated that it takes, on average, 10 years for a residential customer to break even on a solar or wind system.ìAs prices come down with affordable tank systems and wind generators that will change,î he said. ìAnd if the cost of electricity continues to rise, that will have an effect on the payback, too.îMVEA does not have a net metering program, but it does have a program that it calls ìnet billing.î Under the net billing program, MVEA buys excess energy at the wholesale rate of 5.44 cents per kWh. ìItís done with two meters and what goes through the positive side of the meter is what your bill is based on,î Edwards said. ìIf you generate electricity from any renewable source back the other way, we keep track of that and we pay that semi-annually.î Under the net billing program, customers must buy the second meter.Currently, MVEA has just one net billing customer. ìIt takes people with means or discretionary income who want to do it for the environment to actually spend the money. I encourage anyone to talk to me about doing it,î he said.Others can support renewable energy through MVEAís Green Power program, Edwards said. ìEach month, in addition to your regular bill, you buy blocks of 100 kWh for $1.25 per block, and that money goes directly to Tri-Statesí renewable resources program,î he said. MVEA purchases its electricity from the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which generates electricity from coal and natural gas. Tri-State also obtains power from federal hydroelectricity allocations and renewable resource technologies.ìThey have contracts with wind farms, and the Tri-States association uses Green Power money to buy wind power and renewable energy,î Edwards said. ìThe cost has come down for this because there are more renewable projects. Last year, it was $2.50 per 100 kWh.îAs of Jan. 2, 408 individual MVEA customers are participating in the Green Power program, purchasing a total of 2,687 blocks a month. Shriever Air Force Base also purchases 3,000 blocks per month.In 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 37, the Renewable Energy Standard, which requires public utilities to generate 3 percent of their electrical production from renewable energy resources in 2007, increasing to 10 percent by 2015. In accordance with Amendment 37, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission adopted standards for net metering. The standards require utilities to provide a free bi-directional meter and to apply a credit to the following monthís bill if a customer puts electricity back on the grid.Amendment 37, however, exempts utilities with less than 40,000 customers. Edwards said MVEA has 37,000 customers. ìWe think that by 2008 or 2009, we will have to readdress the issue,î he said.Or sooner.MVEA increased electricity rates in January, announcing at the same time the following: ìTri-Stateís member cooperatives, including MVEA, are growing at an incredible rate. With growth, comes a greater demand for electricity from Tri-State. To meet this demand, Tri-State must increase its investment, and, until new generation is built, Tri-State must buy expensive power on the open market.îMVEA is currently considering five new energy standards established by the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005. The new standards promote energy efficiency and include net metering. MVEA will hold hearings May 3 in Limon. For information on the standards, see”The decision to adopt the new standards is up to our board,î Edwards said. ìWe have complete flexibility.î He said the board will make their decision by August of this year.Meanwhile, this October, Hicksí power generation facility will be part of the American Solar Energy Societyís ìNational Solar Tour.îìThis year will be the third time our home and renewable energy electrical system will be included in the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Tour,î Hicks said. ìThis event gives me the opportunity to meet many interesting people and a chance to help promote interest in renewable energy. I answer many questions in regard to site selection, system design, equipment requirements, and product sources, cost estimates, and installation concerns.ìThis is where my interest is and where I gain satisfaction from my efforts.”For information on the tour, visit more information on MVEAís Green Power and net billing programs, visit Governorís Office of Energy Management and Conservation loans anemometers to qualified applicants who want to study wind patterns on their property. For details, see

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