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Willette wild about windpower

By Staff | Mar 29, 2010

When the wind blows, means more to Tomas and Nancy Willette than the first line of a lullaby. It means saving electricity.

After almost 40 years of pondering the advantages of going green with a renewable energy source, Tomas and his wife took the plunge. On Jan.12, 2010, they had the Minnesota-based company, Cedar Creek Energy, Inc., erect a 130-foot Ventera wind turbine on their rural Winnebago building site.

As a result, he is now able to farm and harvest the wind – when it blows.

“I was thinking of getting a wind turbine since the 1970s,” says Willette, a one time pre-engineering student, Air Force motor pool mechanic and lastly, a mechanic and farmer at the Willette Seed Farm near Delavan.

Knowing his background and passion for the subject, it is not surprising to learn he has studied renewable energy sources for years.

“During the oil embargo, people began questioning how America would sustain its energy sources,” says Willette. “Later, President Carter pushed for energy reform,” explains Willette. “One of the options suggested was harnessing wind energy. That’s when I first got interested in renewable energy.”

He and his family’s interest in the topic was in evidence in the 1980s when son, Andy, made a solar collector box as a science project. Shortly after this, the Willettes fashioned a homemade solar collect system out of old storm windows for their Delavan home.

“It was a joke,” chuckles Willette. “The windows broke and about all they did was keep the flowers growing during the winter.”

Not to be deterred, Willette continued reading about renewable energy sources. In 2003, he suggested he and his brothers invest in a wind turbine for their seed business.

“It didn’t pan out,” says Willette. “At that point, my brothers were discussing selling the business and didn’t want to invest in a wind turbine.”

Putting his dream on the back burner, Willette accidentally stumbled into the Ventera product last August at Farmfest.

“The improvement in wind turbine technology since 2003 is incredible,” admits Willette.

Still wanting to help the environment by using less coal and oil based energy, Willette took the first step to go green by speaking with a Ventera representative.

“This re-energized me,” says Willette.

While at Farmfest, he and Nancy learned the 250-volt three phase alternator, which produces the energy from the wind, is manufactured in her hometown of Duluth. So, they made a trip to the plant.

“It was the technical stuff that made me decide on this company,” says Willette.

It was at this point he says he had to quit talking about it and simply do it.

After hiring Triple H for tree removal, Willette says the base for the 130-foot tower was put in during September by Cedar Creek, as well as the footings by a crew from St. Cloud. The electricians were based out of Sioux Falls, but locally, Alliant Energy installed the reversing unit.

A 60-ton crane was then brought in from Fairmont to lift the tower sections in place, which had already been assembled horizontally on the ground.

Each section is 20 feet in length, says Willette. At the top, there is a 10 foot ‘quiet tube’ which lessens the noise as the wind travels through the tower and the tube.

“The installers used a laser to line it up,” recalls Willette.

Willette likes the simplicity of the unit.

“I like to go by the philosophy of K-I-S-S,” says Willette. Or as he adds in explanation, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

The unit has just four bearings, two on the propeller and two on the pivot which makes for easier maintenance. However, with the pivots, there is no way to work on the turbine, so the unit must be lowered to the ground if repairs are needed.

“We are not concerned about much maintenance or afraid of the frame sagging during storms,” says Willette.“It’s built like a bridge.”

The Willettes won’ t have to worry about turning it off during bad weather, either.

“I can ignore the wind speed,” he says. “It should survive up to 120 mph winds, because the blades will not spin faster than 260 revolutions per minute.”

The unit requires no batteries and is designed for 30 years of operation.

To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.