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Harnessing power

  • VINNY VELLA/TIMES NEWS This wind turbine, mounted on a 100-foot steel tower, will help provide renewable energy to the home of Mark and Joanne Derr of Towamensing Township.
    VINNY VELLA/TIMES NEWS This wind turbine, mounted on a 100-foot steel tower, will help provide renewable energy to the home of Mark and Joanne Derr of Towamensing Township.
Published August 04. 2010 05:00PM

Mark Derr stands on his porch, glancing down at his iPhone. Using his index finger, he eagerly skims through complicated charts and figures.

"We didn't do so well today," he laments. "Makes sense, look at the sky," he adds, after gesturing at the afternoon's thick cloud cover.

Further commentary on the matter is postponed, however, by a slight commotion in the distance. A group of men shout to each other as a crane gingerly lifts a 100 foot steel tower from the ground. Apparently, progress has been halted by a twisted cable.

"Well you know what they say," Derr says as he lights a cigarette, "if it were easy, everyone would be doing it."

The tower? The support base for a wind turbine. The charts and figures? Daily readouts for Derr's personal solar panel array. The objective? Green living and a comfortable retirement.

Derr and his wife Joanne installed a wind turbine at their home in Towamensing Township Tuesday with the help of Dalcin Electric, a Bath-based company that specializes in renewable energy. This latest addition to the couple's sprawling, five acre property comes just two months after the installation of the aforementioned solar panel array.

"Our electric bill just kept going up," Joanne Derr said. "We're investing in our future; we want to be able to live here forever."

When powering their property started to become a burden, the Derrs decided to act on their long-standing desire to convert to renewable resources. Having done extensive research on turbines, Mark wanted to pursue wind energy, but found it to be impractical.

"In order for us to power all of our land completely, we'd need four turbines," he said. "We're only allowed one."

The couple resorted to solar energy, and after meeting electrical engineer Mike Dalcin in the early spring, quickly began planning their dream.

"We had an immediate comfort level when we met Mike," Derr said. "You know when you are talking with somebody who knows their stuff."

With Dalcin's help, the Derrs built their own personal power grid system, wired directly to the solar panel array. Since going online June 10, the array has compensated for of the couple's electricity. Impressed, they wanted more.

Derr turned to turbines, but found that the investment came at a steep price. Enter REC.

Renewable Energy Credits are the property rights to all the nonpower (i.e. environmental and social) qualities of renewable electricity generation. Each state creates guidelines for how much "green energy" commercial power consumers can use or sell to their customers. By installing their own renewable electricity generators per federal guidelines, the Derrs can earn their own RECs, and sell the energy they produce once their personal electricity needs are met.

"Basically, it pays itself off in about six years," Derr said. "Without these credits, we wouldn't live long enough to pay off this investment." According to Dalcin, the Derrs have entered into an exclusive, five-year contract with Sol Systems, Inc., a company based in Maryland.

Once financially secure, the couple began dealing with logistics. They settled on a residential turbine, manufactured by Bergey Windpower in Oklahoma, that can withstand winds up to 30 miles-per-hour. When combined with the solar panel array, the wind turbine generates enough energy to fulfill about 90 percent of the couple's energy requirements.

To support the turbine, a 12,000-pound steel tower needed to be placed on the Derr's property, an operation that required two cranes and a team of 10 workers.

"This was pretty much a textbook case," Dalcin, who acted as the supervisor of the installation, said. "Nothing out of the ordinary happened, and that's the way we like it. Sometimes, excitement can be a bad thing."

Once the buzz from the tower's placement had died down, Derr led a tour of his solar panel array, a monstrous construction 20 feet tall and 60 feet wide. Underneath its 66 panels sits two inverters, which Derr proudly explained the benefits of.

"I saved a total of 6,000 pounds of C02 emissions with this in just under two months," he said.

"Do I deserve my 'eco warrior' badge or what?"

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