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Cut Energy Costs with Wind Energy

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Brian Halbrook, owner of Halbrook Auto Body & Paint in Shelbyville, Ill., looked for ways to become more energy efficient when he opened a new 12,000-square-foot shop in 2005. Halbrook’s old shop, a 4,000-square-foot facility that opened in 1986, routinely had a monthly electric bill around $700. With the new location, Halbrook installed energy efficient lighting and heating and cooling systems to save a buck on those monthly costs. And so even though the business grew by a factor of three, the electric bills did not. In fact, they stayed right around $700. Halbrook still wasn’t satisfied.

This year, Halbrook set out to do away with his pesky monthly electric bill altogether. How? He installed a 100-foot-tall, 40-kilowatt wind turbine at his shop in July. “I saw this as an opportunity to manage my costs and make my shop more competitive,” he says.

“It’s been a great public relations tool. People stop in the shop almost every day to ask about it.”   
    — Brian Halbrook, owner, Halbrook Auto Body & Paint

With the turbine, Halbrook should produce—naturally—at least 67,000 kilowatt hours per year based on site factors and using a 100-foot tower. Actually, he’ll produce more. Craig Pals, vice president of Tick Tock Energy—the wind and solar power distribution company that installed Halbrook’s turbine—says the turbine should produce at least 80,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Halbrook’s electric bill will be a thing of the past, and the turbine will even generate a little revenue. The excess 10,000 kilowatt hours generated can be sold back to the local power company. That’s a combination of financial benefits Halbrook believes will give him a competitive edge in his market.

Wind energy isn’t just for the big guys. Halbrook has just seven employees and less than $1 million in annual revenues. An average-sized turbine, like the one at Halbrook, ranges in cost from $160,000 to $200,000 for complete turn-key installation, before you factor in rebates and tax incentives, Pals says. State and federal rebates for renewable energy can cut the cost dramatically. Halbrook estimates his investment will pay for itself in five to seven years.

Capitalizing on wind energy could be an environmentally friendly strategy for your shop to slash energy costs while earning you positive attention in your community. But do your research first: Government incentives, wind speeds and building regulations vary by locale.

Making Wind Pay

Wind energy is relatively new in the collision industry, says Steven Schillinger, president of GRC Pirk Management Co. in Reno, Nev. It’s becoming more accessible as the costs associated with wind machines decrease.

The government financial incentives were the tipping point that persuaded Halbrook to invest in wind energy. When he applied for permission to put up his turbine in January 2010, the state of Illinois offered Halbrook a 30 percent rebate for his investment, up to $50,000. The federal government offered the same deal. By “stacking” those two rebates, he was able to purchase and install the $160,000 machine for only $60,000 of his own cash.

The turbine occupies 18 square feet on property behind the shop, and Halbrook expects it to pay for itself no later than 2017, depending on wind speeds. “That payback [estimate] is based on an average eight-mile-per-hour wind resource in my area,” Halbrook explains. Weather data of average wind speed and direction at different heights on a site determine the available wind resource, which indicates whether a turbine is feasible. (Historic wind speed maps are available from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) at bit.ly/FBWind.) “If wind speeds happen to be higher, the turbine could pay for itself even quicker than expected,” Halbrook says.

The 30 percent federal rebate for wind energy will be available through 2016, but rebates at the state level vary. Not every state participates, states have different amounts of funds available and some areas run out of money faster than others depending on demand, Schillinger says. In fact, the 2009-2010 Illinois rebate program that refunded Halbrook’s money ran out of cash just one month after approving him, Pals says. However, the 2010-11 program is expected to resume this fall and funds are typically available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other considerations before diving headfirst off the wind energy cliff: Consult the DOE (bit.ly/FBEnergy or bit.ly/FBEnergy2) to find out what your state offers for renewable energies. And check with your local government for permit requirements, Schillinger suggests, because some areas may have regulations that prevent you from installing a wind turbine.

Halbrook says it was easy to acquire permission from his local government to erect his wind turbine, as his area is highly in favor of businesses using renewable energies. But he did have to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since his shop is within one mile of the airport.

How Much Wind is Enough?

Obviously, the amount of energy your turbine produces depends greatly on your local wind resource. According to the DOE, the Midwest Region of the country tends to have the highest average wind resources, while the Eastern and Southeastern areas are rather low. But even wind-poor regions can use the energy-efficient technology.

“People really seem to want to support businesses that are using alternative energy. It’s become a great selling point for us.”
— Derek Naidoo, owner, Auto Body Speed Shop

Derek Naidoo, owner of Auto Body Speed Shop in Jacksonville, Fla., installed wind technology in December 2009 (see “The Fab Four” article for more on Naidoo’s shop innovations). Instead of a wind turbine, he installed a wind spire—three of them, actually. A spire requires about the same amount of space as a light pole, costs less than a turbine, and is designed to produce energy at lower wind speeds, which is why it’s good for poor wind areas. Where Halbrook’s turbine needs eight-mile-per-hour winds to generate power, Naidoo’s spires need just 0.25-mile-per-hour winds to work—barely anything. (Turbines do generate more power, says Schillinger, so they’re the way to go if your locale is windy enough.)

Naidoo spent $30,000 on his three wind spires—$10,000 apiece—which he imported from China-based Mariah Power. He says the spires produce 1.2 kilowatts per hour at maximum capacity, when winds reach 14 miles per hour.

The spires together with the solar panels create about 14 percent of Naidoo’s electricity needs, and cut his monthly bill by $800, from $3,500 to $2,700.

Naidoo also took advantage of the same government incentives Halbrook did to pay for the investment, recouping 50 percent of his costs. Naidoo estimates the spires will pay for themselves within 40 months.

Efficiency First

Even with financial incentives, wind energy technology isn’t exactly cheap. You have to be willing to invest in it knowing it will take a few years to realize the full economic benefit. The more electricity your shop consumes, the larger machine you will need, the more it will cost—which could hinder bigger, electricity-guzzling shops.

To get the best return on your wind investment, Pals suggests first reducing your energy needs.

“We recommend energy efficiency and prudent energy management along with renewable resources,” Pals says. “It pays to reduce your energy load before you install a turbine.” That allows shop owners to invest conservatively in wind technologies, avoiding those that are bigger and more expensive than they really need, he says.

To reduce your energy needs and move toward wind energy as a viable option, Pals offers a few tips:

• Upgrade to an energyefficient lighting system.

• Ensure you have an efficient air conditioning system.

• Eliminate leakage in your compressed air system.

• Maintain an efficient paint booth for airflow and heating.

(Check out “The Dirt on Paint” for tips on paint booth efficiency.)

With reduced energy requirements, Pals says, shops can boost their profits by keeping dollars they would normally spend on utilities in their pocket.

Shoot the Breeze with Customers

Cost reduction on monthly bills is great, but for many shop owners, new and more customers are even better. Halbrook says the wind turbine towering over his shop is bringing an added benefit he hadn’t really expected—attention from customers.

“It’s been a great public relations tool so far,” Halbrook says. “People stop in the shop almost every day to ask about it.” And all people, Halbrook points out, are potential customers.

Naidoo agrees. “People really seem to want to support businesses that are using alternative energy,” he says. “It’s become a great selling point for us.” Naidoo says his wind spires have gotten him noticed on the street—and in the media—which he attributes to a 3 percent increase in the number of customers coming to his door.

“It’s not a huge difference, but that increase will certainly add up over time,” Naidoo says.

Feel-Good Profitability

Shops that install renewable energy technology are showing good stewardship to the environment, Schillinger says by reducing greenhouse gases in the air.

It’s the responsible thing to do, Naidoo says. “We put a lot of harm into our environments through waste disposal and toxins that are let out into the atmosphere. Why not do something to compensate for that?”

The cost of energy is going to increase, Naidoo says, and as that happens, the value of his monthly savings increases right along with it.
Halbrook also sees investing in wind technology as a financial advantage he has over competing shops. “The cost of energy,” he says, “is one less business expense I have to worry about increasing in price.”

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