On Clean Acres Farm along the Kentucky River palisades in Mercer County, there now stands a 140-foot wind turbine.
Windmills are nothing new. Grain was ground in classic Dutch mills for centuries, and settlers on the Great Plains used windmills to pump well water.
These days, with increased interest in the possibilities of developing sustainable, efficient and renewable energy sources, finding a model for change isn't always easy.
But technology that employs the power of wind has evolved, this time to create electricity efficiently.
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Eileen and Bill Slater think theirs is the first wind-only residential electricity-generating system in Central Kentucky, and they hope their story will enlighten others who are considering alternative energy sources.
"We want to let people know it can be done," Eileen Slater says. Getting "off the grid," instead of drawing electricity from the usual, established system and source, requires learning about advances in technology, investigating costs and taking a risk.
For the Slaters, the move to harness wind energy made perfect sense. This practical and self-sufficient couple had already returned to the land, starting from scratch and homesteading by building a house out of local rock after settling in Metcalfe County about 30 years ago. They home-schooled their four children, kept goats and chickens, and raised a garden full of vegetables.
Loosely quoting theologian Alan Watts, Bill says: "The human heart wants simplicity and satisfaction. We tend to mistake money for real wealth."
When the kids moved to Lexington and grandchildren came into the picture, the Slaters began to move to Clean Acres, where they now have a 36-acre farm. They sell produce at the Woodford County farmers market and they maintain their day jobs as marriage and family therapy counselors.
The idea of using alternative energy began to take shape last fall, after the Slaters met David Drury of Earth Positive Energy LLC. The company, in Paris, offered a free site assessment of the possibilities of combining solar and wind power.
According to the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence, "In general, Kentucky has low wind speeds and therefore, limited wind-energy potential. However, there may be specific sites and applications where wind is a cost-effective option."
The Slaters were aware that their farm was a windy location.
"If you set something down outside, it isn't likely to be in the same place when you look for it again," Eileen says. Says Bill: "The wind comes whipping up here sometimes like you wouldn't believe."
They knew they had one of those "specific sites."
Using recorded average annual wind speeds available at various altitudes for their exact latitude and longitude, they calculated an average wind of about 10.5 mph, so it was predicted that there was force enough to power a turbine from the Burgey Windpower Co. The turbine requires a start-up speed of 7 mph to generate enough power to provide the electricity consumed at their farm and home each month.
The initial cost of installation was estimated at $60,000, which could be offset by a 30 percent federal tax credit and reduction of their electricity bills. If they supplied more energy to the electrical company than they used, they would be selling power back to the utility. Drury estimated that it would take eight or nine years for the system to pay for itself.
There has been increased government interest in renewable energy recently, and various U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and state programs might help with installation costs. The Slaters decided to think about it.
In early April, Bill Slater says, "the perfect storm" came together.
"I'd already read Erik Reece's writing about mountaintop removal in Appalachia, but then the news was filled with stories of miners dying in West Virginia, and the oil spill in the Gulf caused an ecological crisis."
The couple called Drury to install the turbine. Concrete anchors secure sets of guy wires and the main steel tower. A yellow-and-white three-blade fiberglass propeller sits atop the tower. Buried cable carries inverter-created alternating current to an interface in the house. A dual-meter box installed by the power company records electricity moving in and out.
Eileen Slater says she sees the nearby power plant on the river being supplied by coal trains crossing High Bridge, and she is comforted that she has chosen a cleaner, environmentally positive, off-the-grid alternative.