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Energy solutions are blowin' in the wind...

Investment in renewable energy is a worldwide trend, as well as in the East Otter Tail farm and lake country.

In New York Mills, a local firm, Residential Wind Power Inc., is selling and installing wind energy systems designed for the home and property owner.

In Edna Township, south of Perham, a hog producer will be installing a unit with enough capacity to power most of the electrical demand in a 1,100 hog barn.

For multi-generation farm families, like Mark Riestenberg's, his uncles and other elders remember the days before the electric co-op arrrived in about 1947. Wind turbines were used to generate power for milking machines--more than 50 years ago. And, almost every farm had a windmill to pump water, said Riestenberg.

So, down on the farm, wind power is simply an old idea--with a renewed focus.

New York Mills firm specializes in smaller units for homes

Last month, Residential Wind Power Inc. installed a wind unit capable of generating 10 kw per hour.

The New York Mills firm specializes in smaller units, with 2 to 10 kw generation per hour.

The average U.S. household energy consumption is 1,000 kw per month. Residential Wind Power's 2 kw unit should generate enough to meet 85 percent of the average household's needs, according to Dan Mattfeld, manager of Residential Wind. Bill Boedigheimer, Perham, former owner of Boedy's Appliance, is the owner of the company.

The 10 kw unit, such as the one on display at the New York Mills shop, would meet the demands of a larger home and small businesses.

The 2 kw units retail at about $10,500. The 10 kw units, about $33,000.

Rural homeowner will harness wind for his power

In 2007, the World Watch Institute reported 36 billion dollars of global investment in wind energy alone.

For property owners like Dennis Benson, "the time was right" to install a windmill and generator on his hobby farm southwest of Perham.

"I will be one customer who won't have to worry about stressing the system," said Benson, who uses about 500 kilowatts of electricity a month.

The unit installed by Residential Wind Power is capable of generating 650 kilowatts per month, so the 150 kilowatt surplus can be "sold back" to the power company.

Residential Wind Power owner Bill Boedigheimer, manager Dan Mattfeld and crew installed Benson's wind unit last month.

"The cost of energy is going to continue to rise," said Benson. "Once this system is paid for, it will basically be free energy."

Edna Township hog farmer adopts wind power

Hog farmer Mark Riestenberg is scheduled in July for installation of an 85 foot-tall windmill tower--capable of producing 65 kw per hour.

The windmill blades themselves measure 25 feet in length.

Annually, he is expecting about 140,000 kw--of which more than half could be sold back to the Lake Region Electric co-op.

At that rate, he expects to recover his $85,000 investment within eight years.

The unit will power most of the needs of his 1,100 hog barn. The feed line, fans, curtains and lights will be run on wind energy, though he will continue to heat the barn with LP gas.

Demand for the wind units is high, and, in fact, Riestenberg was planning to have his wind generator up and running in May, but the equipment was delayed due to shortages.

"The demand has also driven the price up. If I had bought the unit now, it would be $125,000 instead of $85,000," said Riestenberg.

Reconditioned windmill bought from California "windfarm"

He purchased his unit through Fergus Falls-based Vinco, and electrical contractor that also specializes in wind power. It is actually a used unit from a California wind farm, but the equipment is completely reconditioned for resale to consumers.

"Certainly, it was the energy crunch that made us look more closely at wind power," said Riestenberg. "Energy prices are only going to go up. We can be pretty certain of that."

Riestenberg describes it as a hedge against high electricity costs. Since his wind unit is capable of generating twice as much energy as he needs in his barn, he has surplus that is sold back to Lake Region. As electricity cost climbs, the more he earns through the power he sells back--while recouping the cost of his investment and generating "free" energy at the same time.

His system is set up with two generators. One kicks in when the wind velocity is minimal. The second, larger generator kicks in at 18 mph wind speeds. The electricity flows into the barn, or into the utility company's power grid. If the wind isn't blowing, the barn is powered through conventional electricity from the grid.

Riestenberg markets about 6,000 hogs a year, with his wife Annette and five children.

But beyond the economics, the Edna Township farmer believes it is the right thing to do.

"It is a thing of the future. Everybody has to start doing their part to save energy, and create green, renewable energy," he noted.

As Americans, "we've had it too good for too long," said Riestenberg.