May 2007 News
Second renewable energy forum attracts large crowd
By Katie Alvord
HANCOCK -- A larger-than-expected turnout at a Hancock renewable energy forum caught the organizers by surprise -- again.
Well over 100 people flocked to the April 17 forum, "Renewable Energy: Reducing Home Energy Costs, Part
2," held at Lakeview Manor and organized by the Keweenaw Sustainability Project
(KSP). The first "Reducing Home Energy Costs" forum, also at Lakeview Manor, surprised KSP organizers in February when it attracted a crowd of 70 people.*
The April forum featured talks by Terry McNinch about solar photovoltaics; Terry Kinzel on solar, hydroelectric, and wind power; Mike Benda on his large residential wind system; and Dave Bach about retrofitting homes for energy efficiency and conservation.
|More than 100 interested residents attended the April
17 forum, "Renewable Energy: Reducing Home Energy Costs, Part
2," held at Lakeview Manor in Hancock and organized by the Keweenaw Sustainability Project
(KSP). (Photo © 2007 Gustavo Bourdieu. Reprinted with permission.)
McNinch began the evening with an explanation of solar electricity and how it works.
"It looks like magic, but itís not magic; itís physics," he said, as he showed a diagram of sunlight striking electrons within a solar panel to create electricity.
The solar power system at his familyís house near Houghton is a small one, McNinch said. Altogether, the four
photovoltaic panels in the system measure about one square meter. That takes care of all the McNinch householdís
electricity needs by powering lights, a water pump, radio, CD and DVD players, and other electronics. The McNinches use wood and propane for space and water heating, propane for
refrigeration and the laundromat for washing clothes.
|Terry McNinch of Houghton opens the April 17
renewable energy forum at Hancock's Lakeview Manor with an explanation of solar electricity and how it works.
He also demonstrates how his own solar power system covers his family's
electricity needs. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo Bourdieu. Reprinted with permission.)
The McNinches have saved thousands of dollars by using this system, which cost about $3,000 to install in 1986. They also were able to benefit from a federal tax credit at the time that refunded them $1,200 of the systemís cost.
McNinch remarked that using small-scale solar electricity involves more than a change in power source. It also involves a change in lifestyle, incorporating more conservation and awareness of energy
From Solar to Hydro
Terry Kinzel also uses solar photovoltaic power, he told the forum, but in combination with a small hydroelectric turbine as well as a windmill.
Kinzel began his presentation by holding up a 20-watt compact fluorescent light bulb, saying that such bulbs have been key to limiting his householdís energy use. Compact fluorescents are more expensive but last far longer than incandescent lights.
ďWeíve replaced I think three light bulbs in the 15 years weíve been in the house,Ē he said.
His household uses about 100 kilowatt-hours per month of electricity, Kinzel reported. Appliances they run include a super-insulated refrigerator and freezer as well as an efficient front-loading washer. They also use a
"solar clothes dryer," he said -- in other words, the great outdoors.
Kinzel got a laugh when he told the crowd he had learned that some neighborhoods donít allow residents to dry clothes outdoors on a clothesline.
"Theyíre not called prisons -- oh, yes! Theyíre gated communities," he said, with a little prompting from the audience.
Of the three renewable energy sources Kinzel uses -- water, solar and wind --
his most reliable and cheapest source of power is the hydroelectric turbine installed in a small stream on his 2.7-acre property. Except for about two weeks during spring ice melt and runoff, when he pulls the turbine out of the water to prevent damage, the equipment runs 24/7, he said.
Kinzel had the turbine with him at the forum and showed it to the crowd.
|Terry Kinzel shows forum audience his hydroelectric
turbine, used to produce electricity in his home. Of the three renewable
energy sources Kinzel uses on his property -- water, solar and wind --
the hydroelectric turbine is his most reliable and cheapest source. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo
Bourdieu. Reprinted with permission.)
"This is by far the cheapest way to make electricity if you have access to flowing water with ten to fifteen feet of
head," he said. Head is the vertical drop of water between two points in a stream.
Kinzelís solar panels are on a tracking system which follows the sun. That feature, meant to boost panel efficiency and output, is not really needed at this latitude, he noted, because in winter when the panels most need a boost, the sunís path is very short and easily intercepted by panels in a fixed position. His small wind turbine is on a 47-foot tower made of two-inch
Big Wind Along Lake Superior
Mike Benda, who spoke after Kinzel, described the much larger wind system that supplies power for his household in Stanton Township. His two-blade wind turbine is mounted on a 105-foot tower, he
said; and the blades have a 15-foot diameter.
The system will put out 3,000 watts in a 15 mile-per-hour wind, Benda said. But often, in his location right next to Lake Superior, the wind is much stronger.
"The first two weeks we had that thing up, we had
The Bendas run all the electrical appliances in their household on wind power, he remarked. They use wood for cooking and space heating, as well as propane for space heating, water
heating and a clothes dryer.
Wind is plentiful enough in their location that the Bendas sometimes have excess power. Benda said that although net metering and selling power back to the utility is now possible in Michigan, they so far have not participated. Net metering was not available when they installed their system, he
noted; and, in Michigan now, the requirements for participating are cumbersome.
|Mike Benda of Stanton Township, whose home is next
to Lake Superior, displays his wind turbine to the crowd at the
April 17 forum.
The Bendas run all the electrical appliances in their household on wind
power. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo Bourdieu. Reprinted with permission.)
Benda told the crowd that the mechanics of their wind system have not been trouble-free.
"I love wind, I love looking at it; but if youíre going to have wind, youíre going to have
problems," he said.
Benda told a story of a windy night when their transformer, which converts higher-voltage electricity from the wind turbine to a lower voltage, overheated and started spewing black, foul-smelling smoke.
Benda and his wife Cathy stayed up until midnight attempting to fix the system. They ultimately put the brakes on it, which allowed the wind turbine blades to spin freely without heating the
transformer but didnít guarantee that the blades would stay in one piece in the howling winds.
"In the morning the wind turbine was still there, but the transformer was
history," he said.
Benda reported the system also requires significant regular maintenance.
"I donít want to disappoint anybody, but this is a lot of work," he said.
Still, Benda said, he loves using wind power. The Bendas plan to continue using
it and are currently pursuing plans to upgrade their system.
Retrofitting Older Homes
Dave Bach gave the eveningís final presentation, on retrofitting older homes to save energy.
Bach told the crowd that the first step is conducting an energy audit. He suggested visiting online sites such as
Home Energy Saver to get help.
"The energy audit allows you to prioritize your efforts," he said.
With an audit, you can play "what if" and see how much energy and money specific changes might save,
|During the April 17 renewable energy forum, Dave Bach
of Houghton presents suggestions for retrofitting older homes to save
energy. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo Bourdieu. Reprinted with permission.)
As in his talk at the February KSP forum, Bach stressed changing household habits as the cheapest way to save energy. Examples he gave included opening drapes on south windows on sunny
days and containing phantom loads by unplugging chargers and appliances, such as TVs that have remote controls.
He also mentioned several low-cost measures that have big energy-saving paybacks, such as using low-flow plumbing fixtures, water heater
timers and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Reducing air infiltration into a house helps, too, he said, as does inspecting and sealing furnace ductwork.
"Leaky ducts can easily account for a 10 to 60 percent drop in the efficiency of your furnace," he
Usually, Bach said, a plan to make a house more energy-efficient will start with conservation measures, then look at
increasing the efficiency of appliances, then consider using new sources of power such as the solar,
wind and hydro discussed by other forum speakers.
He also pointed out that the federal government might offer financial help for some conservation or renewable energy efforts.
"There are federal tax credits right now," he said. "Check the IRS. They change on a regular
Crowd Stays for Discussion
After the presentations, the crowd broke into discussion groups led by each speaker. Question and answer sessions continued for about another hour.
|After the forum presentations, Terry Kinzel answers a
local resident's questions on the details of his hydroelectric
turbine. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo Bourdieu. Reprinted with permission.)
Mike Schira of MSU Extension, who moderated the forum, estimated the crowd at about 120.
"I got to more than 100 before I had to stop counting." he said.
"And then more people came in after that."
Schira added, "Itís good to see this kind of enthusiasm. Most of these folks will pick up one or two things that probably will benefit them."
One thing he liked, Schira remarked, was that all the speakers stressed the importance of conservation. While not everyone from the audience might be ready to install solar or wind systems, he pointed out, they all could benefit from ideas for saving energy.
ďThatíll save them some money,Ē he added.
Vern Simula, one of the forumís organizers, said he was overwhelmed by the turnout, as well as surprised. As the forum was about to start, Simula spent several minutes setting up extra chairs to accommodate the growing crowd.
However, Merle Kindred, another forum organizer, said the large turnout hadnít surprised her at all.
"Iíve been hearing all kinds of people mentioning that weíve had very unusual weather, or that theyíre paying much more for energy," Kindred said.
"Iíve experienced extremely heightened awareness about climate change, so the size of this meeting is what I expected. Many people are moving beyond the point of saying,
'I just donít know what to do,' and going on to doing something."
Kindred said she thought the forum might have been particularly appealing due to its focus on the nuts and bolts of renewable energy and energy conservation.
Hancock resident Sandy Graman said she was struck by what she heard in the post-presentation discussions.
"Many people are not only willing to put in the time to discuss home improvements, but also to make lifestyle changes," she said.
KSP sponsors Home Tour May 19
The Keweenaw Sustainability Project offered a follow-up to the two renewable
energy forums: A Solar, Wind and Retrofitted Home Tour on Saturday, May 19. A
flyer distributed at the April 17 Forum gave detailed directions to three local
homes with model renewable energy systems.
The tour began at the home of Terry Kinzel and Sue Ellen Kingsley (Churning
Rapids), just outside Hancock, where visitors were able to see the water,
wind and solar power systems that Kinzel had explained in his forum
presentation. Next Rick Loduha and Barbara Hardy invited visitors to tour their
retrofitted home on Elm Street in Hancock. For those willing to drive a bit
farther from town, Mike Benda offered a tour of his wind energy system at his
home in Stanton Township.
KSP member Elizabeth Flynn was enthusiastic about taking the tour.
"It complemented the forum because we were actually able to see what the
presenters had described," Flynn said.
The flyer for the tour also thanked the tour hosts and hostesses for opening
their homes as "an act of renewable energy in itself."
*Editor's Note: Read about the first KSP-sponsored forum "Reducing
Home Energy Costs," held in February, in Katie Alvord's article "Renewable
energy events draw local crowds."
Read more about the author of this article, Katie Alvord, on her Keweenaw Now
Gustavo Bourdieu is a photographer for Keweenaw Now.