Watauga Democrat
February 16, 2007







Inheriting the wind’s power
By Scott Nicholson
nicholson@wataugademocrat.com


A Bethel man became the first person to operate a new wind turbine after passage of the county’s wind energy ordinance, but his project was more of an impetus for the ordinance than a result of it.

Ned Trivette


Ned Trivette had returned to his family homestead near the Bethel community after a 40-year career as vice chancellor of business affairs at Appalachian State University. The wind turbine was a result of his natural interests as well as a growing interest in a possible oil shortage.

“I’ve always enjoyed a project,” Trivette said. “I’ve built a tennis court, a few fish ponds, and I converted a barn to a playroom.”

With the help of the ASU Appropriate Technology Program and the Western North Carolina Wind Energy Initiative, Trivette began planning the turbine’s installation last March.

“I was watching a TV show from Washington, and a senator was talking about oil supplies,” Trivette said. “I thought, ‘Gosh, we’re going to run out of oil one day.’ This won’t solve the whole problem, but it will help knock the peak off.”

The installation process was a learning experience for both the supporting agencies and the county planning department. Watauga County planning director Joe Furman said because the turbine application was made before the passage of the ordinance, it falls under state building codes. Even with the ordinance in place, he said, there will still be a number of review areas unless the state building code is amended to address more specific requirements for wind turbines.

A wind turbine now provides power to Ned Trivette’s Bethel farm thanks to a partnership with Appalachian State University.

Photo submitted


Under the county wind energy ordinance, which was the first of its kind in the state, individual or small-scale wind turbines undergo a relatively simple permitting process. Large-scale, commercial wind farms undergo more scrutiny and a review by the county planning board. Ashe County recently drafted an ordinance based on Watauga’s model after a man there proposed a commercial wind farm.

For Trivette, the building code complications were a little frustrating. The final requirements included tower engineering by a state-licensed engineer; Underwriters Laboratory listing for the grid-tie inverter; preliminary electrical inspection to enable power to be connected to the meter; and a final turbine, controller, and electrical grounding inspection by a state-licensed engineer.

Trivette said he didn’t pursue the wind turbine to make a profit, though it’s now connected to Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation’s power grid. Excess electricity can be sold or credited back to the power company, but Trivette said over the course of the year the turbine will only provide about 10 percent of his household electricity.

“I said, ‘Well, let’s just put one up and see what it will do,’” Trivette said. “I found a great place. I knew there was wind there from when I was a kid, working in the fields.”

Trivette’s turbine is on a 65-foot pipe secured by guy wires. It contains a 400-watt turbine, and Trivette said it takes about an hour of steady wind to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity. “I don’t think we’d ever get enough from wind to get all our energy,” Trivette said.

Trivette spent $9,000 on the system, and will get $3,000 of that back as a state tax credit. However, the system will have to remain in continuous operation for a year before he is eligible for the credit. Still, the economics aren’t enticing for those seeking a quick payback on energy costs, but Trivette felt it was more important to serve as a model and support an idea that could become more affordable later as the technology evolves.

Besides, it’s fun. “It’s very attractive,” he said. “I love to look at it. I sit and watch it spin.”

One of the concerns addressed in the county ordinance is appearance, but Trivette’s surrounding property owners are all relatives. He said the turbine makes no noise unless the wind gusts over 40 miles per hour. If that happens, the fans feather out to limit the wind’s impact, and it creates what Trivette described as a “ruffling” sound that he’d only heard once.

Blue Ridge is paying three cents per kilowatt-hour for any electricity that flows back through the grid from the wind turbine. The statewide green energy program, NC Greenpower, is paying an additional six cents.

Trivette said Blue Ridge EMC was enthusiastic about the effort, and he was the first to connect to the local grid with a wind system, though residential solar power had previously been added. Blue Ridge EMC is working on a net-metering system that would allow the power meter used to measure electricity use to flow backwards or forwards, depending upon whether energy was flowing to or from the residential system.

Brent Summerville of the ASU Appropriate Technology Program said Trivette’s turbine was a learning experience. Though he said other areas of the county have stronger winds, Trivette offers a local, small-scale example of a workable wind system. Future systems will benefit from the experience gained by both planners and installers, Summerville said.

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