Nancy Riddick leads a visitor to the power meter on the side of her rural home, set on two acres of prairie land in Hunt County, Texas. The mid-April wind is whipping at 30 miles an hour or more, so the timing of this demonstration couldn’t be much better.
Nancy points as the dial slows to a crawl, then stops. As the stiff breeze continues unabated, the meter actually starts to move backwards.
“I love it when it does that,” she says with a smile.
Small wonder. Thanks to a Skystream 3.7 wind turbine, the Riddicks (for this moment, at least) aren’t paying for electricity. Instead, they are actually creating and capturing it for future use.
Welcome to what just could be the next big thing in personal energy conservation, assuming you have upwards of $12,000 to invest up front and a lot of 1/2 acre or more to accommodate the installation. Skystream isn’t going to eliminate the need for the local power company any time soon, but it just might help take some of the sting out of that monthly bill. Since flipping the switch just after Christmas, Nancy says the Riddicks have enjoyed a 40 percent reduction in their monthly electricity costs compared to the same months in 2007.
The source, in this case: A 33-foot tower located about 80 yards from the back of the Riddicks’ house. At the top, 12-foot rotors catch the force of the wind, and a 2.4 kilowatt generator turns those gusts into energy that feeds directly into their home — or it could be your home or business.
The system works in conjunction with your local utility. When the wind is blowing, Skystream (produced by Southwest Windpower of Flagstaff, Ariz.) provides at least a portion of your electricity. When it isn’t, you tap into your regular power source.
Even better: If Skystream produces more power than you are currently using, the meter actually does spin backwards as you contribute energy to the local grid and earn credits.
Skystream requires an 8 mile per hour wind to get started and a 5 mph breeze to keep going. How much power you generate is completely dependent on how much wind you get. The beauty of the tower and rotors is in the eye of the beholder, but the turbine is surprisingly quiet, producing a low hum that can barely be heard from the Riddicks’ house.
“We had been interested in some form of alternative energy for a long time,” says Nancy, a home-based medical transcriptionist. “We’ve looked at solar, and we’ve looked at the wind. The solar is so bulky and there’s a lot of maintenance to that, and the turbines were so ridiculously expensive.
“The price (on Skystream) finally came down, starting at $11,900. That was the cheapest we’d ever seen it. That’s when we decided to do it.”