Wind power makes new home in Cedar Rapids

Photo by Jessica Wise, Flickr

Cedar Rapids new wind turbine ordinance went into effect nine months ago, and residents are finally starting to take advantage of the new opportunities it creates.

The Gazette reports:

Wind power is arriving inside the city limits here — where City Hall’s new wind turbine ordinance is now nine months old — in something softer than a gentle breeze.

But if wind power in Cedar Rapids needs a couple of pioneers, Dudley Fleck is happy to be one of them.

Fleck, president of Fleck Sales Co., has just erected two, 70-foot-tall wind turbines at his beer distribution office and warehouse, which is visible to all driving by on Interstate 380 at the far southern edge of the city limits.

“I had a good feeling we were first (in the city),” Fleck says about the particular kind of wind turbines he has put in place. “And we kind of wanted to be with our accessibility and visibility to I-380. We wanted to demonstrate that we’re good corporate citizens of this community, and also, to maybe encourage others to try to do the same thing.”

Each of the turbines is a Skystream brand, manufactured by Southwest Windpower, Flagstaff, Ariz., and sold by FreeWind LLC in Cedar Rapids. The two turbines are classified as small turbines in the city’s wind-turbine ordinance, which means turbines on towers generally under 100 feet in height. One of the key provisions of the ordinance is that a site needs a fall zone of 110 percent of the height to the tip of the turbine blade, which isn’t a problem for Fleck’s wide-open site.

In truth, the first turbines like those at Fleck’s — with the typical configuration of three blades rotating atop a tower — were supposed to go up months ago in the midst of a residential neighborhood at 2300 Johnson Ave. NW outside the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Electrical Training Center. However, neighbors objected to the towers in proximity to homes, and the training center compromised, installing two turbines without rotating blades on 37-foot towers.

Meanwhile, Kirkwood Community College is planning to install the first large turbine in the city, at more than 400 feet tall, on its campus.

Fleck says his firm has been committed to being more “environmentally friendly,” and putting up wind turbines is another step in being part of “the whole sustainability movement,” he says.

He says the company didn’t have the resources to invest in a giant turbine at a cost of $3 million or more, but it can take care of some of its electrical needs with the small turbines. The two small turbines should pay for themselves in five or so years, he says.

Roger Zearley, founder and partner at FreeWind LLC in Cedar Rapids, notes that the two new turbines at Fleck’s will shortly be changed out for turbines that will generate more electricity a month. The ones in place now have 12-foot blades; the new ones will have 16-foot-foot blades.

Zearley puts the cost of the turbines with 16-foot blades at between $29,000 and $35,000 each, installed. Owners then qualify for a 30-percent federal tax rebate, which puts the actual cost of the installed turbines in the low $20,000s, he says.

Nonetheless, he says the upfront cost still keeps many of those interested in wind from installing a turbine. But the equipment will keep improving, the price will keep decreasing and the number of installations will start to increase, he says.

FreeWind has put up small turbines on three farms next door in Benton County and has them in place outside a business in Delhi, on an acreage just outside Walford and near Earlville. The company is installing larger units on a farm near Arlington and on a farm near Vinton, Zearley reports.

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