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Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2010

Small wind turbines heaven sent for Washington vineyard


PATERSON, Wash. - In the eyes of Ali Boyle, the namesake of Alexandria Nicole Cellars, her new vertical wind turbines "are absolutely gorgeous."

And in about four years, the Windspire energy system firmly planted in the family's Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills should start to turn a profit.

"Nobody has any question about whether it's windy enough up here to support them," she said with a smile. "And they are virtually silent. You don't hear them at all."

According to Windspire Energy, a privately held company based in Reno, Nev., in a 15-mph wind these 30-foot tall turbines produce sound just six decibels above ambient.

Amy Berry, director of marketing for Windspire Energy, "We have had a lot of inquiries from vineyards and wineries about Windspires. They generate clean energy. They are unobtrusive; it helps set them apart from their competition, and they can use their own wind on their own land to generate their own energy."

Average wind speed at Destiny Ridge - which overlooks the Columbia River and Crow Butte Park - has been measured at 11 mph. Windspire Energy said its turbines are geared for areas with a minimum average wind speed of 10 mph.

A breeze of 8 mph begins to produce energy. Winds exceeding 27 mph, however, engage a safety brake feature, and the Windspire will stop spinning.

According to the company, each 1.2-kilowatt machine is rated to produce about 2,000 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy a year with an average of 11 mph wind. So with 20 Windspires installed, Destiny Ridge Vineyard might expect to generate 40,000 kWh, or 40 megawatt hours of energy.

The American Wind Energy Association's website states that an average U.S. household consumes about 10 megawatt hours of energy a year, so the Destiny Ridge Vineyard wind project can generate enough power for four U.S. homes.

A typical 300-foot windmill in Washington generates power for more than 300 homes.

"We were excited to put these in because it's just one more step in us being self-sustainable," Boyle said. "They seem like they'll be the perfect fit for us. It's very windy out here, and it will help us generate enough power to run our production facility, all of our vineyard, our foreman's house and our glamping sites."

In the Northwest, wineries and vineyards recently have begun to embrace conservation and environmentally conscious practices. Some even use terms such as organic, biodynamic, low-impact viticulture and enology (LIVE) and "salmon safe" as promotional material to gain share in metropolitan markets.

Boyle's husband, Jarrod, is both the grape grower and winemaker for Alexandria Nicole. The Prosser High School sweethearts also have three children.

"Jarrod started with sustainable practices about seven years ago, before it was as popular as it is now," she said. "We've moved away from putting foil on our our bottles and are trying to do away with extra processes. We're committed to making the land a place that will be around for our kids to farm."

The plan is for the Windspires to help not only allow the Boyles to be "greener," but also reap some monetary rewards.

"We will be able to sell the remaining power, so they should pay for themselves in about three to four years," she said. "We're not setting the trend, but maybe we're introducing this to Washington. Other vineyard owners are curious. They want to know how long it takes to pay for themselves."

In the short term, tax credits will help lessen the major investment for Alexandria Nicole Cellars and Destiny Ridge Vineyard - $8,000 for each Windspire, making for a total of $160,000.

Fortunately, the Boyles didn't have to sacrifice any of their vines. The installation area at Destiny Ridge, about 20 yards by 100 yards, required additional work and expense to churn through several feet of bedrock.

"Every situation is so unique," Berry said. "There's the product, and there's the installation, whether it be on the ground or on a building. That just adds another layer to the cost."

There is a sense of elegance to the Windspires, perhaps best displayed by their implementation at Adobe System's headquarters. The three multi-story towers in San Jose, Calif., create a wind tunnel effect, and 20 Windspires are perched at the open end of a quad and overlook a full-size basketball court.

Other sites include Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Conn.), Boston's Museum of Science and the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

At this point, Alexandria Nicole Cellars is Windspire's biggest vineyard/winery customer in the country. Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport, N.Y. was the first, though, installing its single Windspire last summer.

"We have more than 700 units in the field," Berry said. "We only really started shipping the units in volume in 2009, and now there's more interest than supply."

Windspire launched production of its vertical axis turbines at a former automotive industry plant in Manistee, Mich. Berry said 95 percent of the materials are sourced from Michigan. Components for the all-important magnets are available only in China, she said.

The Boyles welcome colleagues and visitors to see their tiny wind farm, which is north of the crush pad. To the south of the winery are three well-appointed "glamorous" camping sites - aka glamping - overlooking the Columbia River and Oregon.

"A lot of our glampers have a real green mentality, so knowing that the electricity being supplied to the tents is being provided by these, it's pretty cool for them," Boyle said.

And at this point, these glittering and twirling silver erector sets are unique to the Northwest wine industry.

"I think they are beautiful," she said. "They have a reflective quality, and they are just really pretty - especially when you consider what power lines look like."