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Couple erects the first wind generator in Beltrami County

Christina Rossetti asked in a famous poem, "Who has seen the wind?" For Beltrami County, the answer is John and Patty Persell. Fifteen months ago, the couple started powering their home from a wind generator driven by a Jacobs Model 31-20 wind tu...

Christina Rossetti asked in a famous poem, "Who has seen the wind?"

For Beltrami County, the answer is John and Patty Persell. Fifteen months ago, the couple started powering their home from a wind generator driven by a Jacobs Model 31-20 wind turbine on a 120-foot tower in their back yard. Since then, they can open their deck door and see the wind every day.

The Persells said their motivation in investing in wind power is self-sufficiency from a non-polluting source of electrical energy, not economics. The tower, generator and installation of the equipment cost about $44,000.

"You need to be multigenerational," John said. "It may be paid off in 20-25 years, but it's just as valuable then as when you put it up."

The generator supplied about 60 percent of the power for the home in the first year of operation. The Persells buy the remainder of their electricity from Beltrami Electric Cooperative.

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"Last year was a drought year, and you have to have weather to make wind," John said. "Things look a little bit better this year. We're trying to lessen our usage, too."

In March, he said, they came close to producing 100 percent of their energy.

Jared Echternach, Beltrami Electric spokesman, said state law requires power companies to work with co-generation. He added that people who are interested in such collaboration can pick up a brochure with the guidelines at the co-op office at 4111 Technology Drive N.W.

John described the technology involved in their power plant. The major elements of the system are the tower, generator in the basement, propellers, differential to turn the energy 90 degrees into the generator and inverter to transform DC power to AC. In the last year, he said, the system produced 4,600 kilowatt hours of energy. The Persells don't have battery storage, but they hope to add batteries to the system eventually. Peak power is 20 kilowatts.

There is no transfer switch to turn the system off if the wind isn't blowing, John said, but the blades fold up if the wind exceeds 50 mph to protect the system. It can withstand an F3 tornado, which produces winds of 156-206 mph. There is also a safety switch that turns the generation off if it senses no electricity coming into the service entrance. That would happen, for example, if Beltrami Electric cut power in the area so workers could make line repairs.

A service person from Winkelman's Environmentally Responsible Construction of Brainerd, the company that sold the Persells their wind generator, comes out to the home once a year to change oil and perform other maintenance.

From the site preparation to actual generation, John said the process took about six months. They began generating electricity in late January 2006.

Patty said the serviceman who climbed the tower for maintenance said he could see three lakes. She said the wind generator enhances the value of the property in its own right, but joked that it also makes it possible to list the place as "lakeview."

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Minnesota provides incentives for wind generation by not charging property tax on the increased value the system adds to the property. John said state incentives for agricultural wind generation are even greater than for residential.

"He's always wanted to do something like this," said Patty. "He's been working on environmental issues for 30 years -- putting money away for it for a long time."

"In some regards, it's been a long-standing goal of self-sufficiency," John said. He is the environmental policy analyst for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Patty said she heard stories from her father, Lawrence Wilson, about how his parents were the first in Monona County, Iowa, to electrify their farm with a gasoline generator in about 1929.

"I must have been about 4 years old," said Lawrence. "I remember my dad went to town with a horse and wagon to get the generator. All the buildings were wired, and there were lights in every room in the house."

He said they kept the batteries in a cave, or food cellar, to keep them from freezing.

"There must have been pretty near 16 batteries," Lawrence recalled.

He said his parents shared their electricity with neighbors on occasion.

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"Just over the fence from where we lived was an old school house," Lawrence said. "My dad went to school there. They had dances every Saturday night, and my dad would run a wire over there for lights."

"We grew up telling the story of them getting electricity, and now, our grandkids will have a story," Patty said. "The grandchildren will remember their grandpa was the first to put up a wind generator for his personal use in Beltrami County."

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