As the trades blow across Pat Gegen’s Kalaheo property, a slight humming noise becomes increasingly louder with each gust of wind.
“Oh man — 600…780…900 watts — we’re cruisin’ now,” Gegen said as he excitedly watched a handheld meter.
The humming noise, which Gegen calls “white noise,” is the sound his newly installed wind energy converter makes as it generates energy from the wind.
Fully operational since Monday, the converter is intended to provide energy from the wind for Gegen to run his power tools while he builds his new home. Until then, the power generated will go back into Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative’s grid.
“Right now, the power I’m generating is going back to KIUC,” Gegen said. “Ideally, any power I make goes to me, then the rest goes to KIUC.”
For Gegen, the dream of alternative energy began two years ago when he and his wife, Marghee Maupin, bought the Kalaheo property.
“We knew we were going to go with something renewable,” Gegen said. “We did a cost comparison with solar power, but Kalaheo is known for wind so it made sense.”
Gegen said he and Maupin researched wind power and looked at their long-term vision for their home.
“I don’t want to burn anymore oil,” Gegen said. “It’s too beautiful of an island.”
Set slightly off Waha Road, the converter tower stands 35 feet tall; each of the three blades measures 6 feet long. With a 12-foot wingspan, the converter has a maximum spinning height of 41 feet. The top of the unit weighs 200 pounds and the tower alone weighs 550 pounds.
A 6-foot tall cinder block wall in front of the converter houses two electrical boxes. One box holds a safety breaker for the converter; the other box holds fuses and feeds into a panel that goes to the KIUC grid. It also holds outlets that Gegen will use to power tools needed to build his home.
According to Steve Rymsha, a staff engineer at KIUC, because Gegen’s converter is not connected to a house and was approved by the county for temporary wind service, KIUC approved Gegen for Schedule Q rates.
Under Schedule Q rates, consumers will be able to purchase excess renewable energy from KIUC. Instead of selling back electricity to KIUC for a retail rate, consumers under the Schedule Q would receive a wholesale rate.
“It’s great if people can install these cost effective systems to offset their energy consumption,” Rymsha said. “He (Gegen) is using any power he needs and selling the rest to KIUC.”
Once the house is built, a trench will be built so power can be routed to the house, Gegen said.
“We will definitely have a solar water heater and if we need photovoltaics, we will get that too,” he said. “It’s not so much about saving money, it’s about making clean energy.”
In case of a hurricane and he is lucky enough to have some notice, Gegen said the unit can be dismantled. Once the blades are removed from the unit and moved to safety, the tower can be lowered by the way of hinges at the base.
Gegen purchased the unit from Kaua‘i Electric Inc., which also took care of the electric installation while Gegen did the site excavation and cement work.
“I knew what I was looking for,” Gegen said. “The research I did told me this was a good unit.”
According to the Kaua‘i Electric Web site, if wind speeds are below the “cut-in speed” of 8 mph, there will be no output from the converter. But as wind speeds increase, output increases and the amount of power purchased from the utility company is decreased. If the converter produces more power than the home may need, power will go back into the grid.
Now that the converter is installed, Gegen can get back to building his house and implementing his dream of sustainable living.
“It’s just gorgeous — why wouldn’t you want to preserve this?” Gegen said as he looked out over the valley. “We should keep Kaua‘i as beautiful as we can.”
• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org