Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Did Sandra Blow Away Taxpayer Money

Here is what would be going on your roof. Pretty impressive. Just listen to what is being said.

I wanted to write about the money the Province will be spending on some new wind energy technology but I just have not had the chance until now.

I am sure that you remember the story:

  • "Wind energy jobs 'great news for the community,' says Pupatello
    New turbine plant could be just the start: MPP

    Calling a Michigan-based company's decision to open a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Windsor, a "real page-turner for the local economy," Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sandra Pupatello said it could be just the beginning of additional economic investment in the region...

    WindTronics, a division of Muskegon-based EarthTronics, is expected to confirm plans today to take over a former Magna International plant on the city's far west side to begin production of small residential and commercial wind turbines.

    It's anticipated that as many as 200 jobs would eventually be created once WindTronics is in full production at the former Intier Innovatech Seating Systems plant on Sprucewood Avenue...

    WindTronics, a distributor of rooftop commercial and residential turbines, recently reached an agreement with Honeywell International Inc. and its initial six-foot versions of residential turbines will be sold under Honeywell's name at major hardware and do-it-yourself stores.

    According to the Muskegon Chronicle, the company plans to open five or six manufacturing plants in the U.S., China, India, Europe and Canada over the next two years.

    It's expected the plant would produce as many as 5,000 units a month once it reaches full production levels. The Intier plant closed after Chrysler stopped building its Pacifica model at Windsor Assembly Plant in November 2007...

    It's expected the units would cost up to $5,000."

That business model is interesting since a company in England had the same idea except:

  • "Windsave WS1000

    Windsave went out of business on 4th September 2009. Unfortunately, this turbine is therefore no longer available...

    The roof-mounted Windsave "plug-n-save" turbine system received a lot of publicity after breaking into the mainstream market with a partnership with DIY store B&Q."

The subject fascinates me and as you may recall, I brought a Chicago small wind energy company to Windsor some years ago to show off what I hoped could be an urban turbine. However, contrary to my hopes, the Company on its website states:

  • "While it is structurally possible to install [name of turbine] onto single family homes, larger commercial and multi-family residences typically have access to stronger winds than do single-family residences. The reason for this is, single family homes tend to be built around trees and other obstacles that can block the wind. Single family homes can also be built lower to the ground than apartment buildings or condominiums. Subsequently, the payback period for an [name of turbine] on a single-family home may be much longer. We are therefore focusing only on commercial buildings and multi-family residential developments at this time."

How did Ontario and Windsor in particular get so lucky so as to snag this opportunity considering this:

  • "We believe this product will revolutionize wind technology,” said Reg Adams, president of EarthTronics. “We will start the process immediately to source local West Michigan vendors to help support the launch of this project. It will require a variety of vendors and subcontractors through the next years to come to complete a full line for the new WindTronics Turbine line. Both Dr. Mahawili and I are very excited for the opportunity to look at producing a home grown product here in West Michigan.”

Oooops, we outbid and got them:

  • "Excuse local economic developers for not being as excited about the recent flood of positive press for the Muskegon-based WindTronics residential wind turbine as they are in Windsor, Ontario.

    WindTronics officials say the company has accepted a $2.7 million Ontario government grant to initially produce the turbines in a vacant auto parts plant on Windsor’s west side. The company also will invest $2.7 million in a manufacturing operation that will create up to 200 jobs in the next two to three years, company and provincial officials announced.

    A proposal for a Muskegon manufacturing site was backed by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. based on a $500,000 upfront loan and a $3.7 million, 10-year tax break. WindTronics officials selected the proposal with substantially more money up front.

    “Michigan really pulled up the rear of what we had as choices,” said WindTronics President Reg Adams. “Ontario, Canada, has an aggressive ‘green’ initiative. We needed to make this first-plant decision quickly.”

I wonder what due diligence Ontario undertook to see if this technology made sense. At least someone had some foresight:

  • "Ontario’s $2.7 million grant is contingent on generating 200 jobs in the next five years. Without the jobs, the company will have to pay back the grant [WindTronics President Reg] Adams said."

Except if the Company by chance fails and goes broke, there will be no money to pay back.

I really hope the Company is very successful. BUT, I am skeptical and the story made me nervous. I have some questions that I really wish the Company or the Government would answer. I did some research and also asked a question to an online group of people who are involved in Wind.

I have no idea what is right or wrong but here are some remarks I received and information I found that need a response before we get all too excited. I hope that the Company has positive answers:

From an article in the Gaurdian:

  • "Up to 30%" of a household's needs is a common figure bandied about, but it verges on meaningless because it is often based on average wind speed. Not only will the true saving depend on how windy your area is, but how much energy your property uses..

    Am I going to get back my investment?

    The £1,500 question. Again those average wind speeds figure in some controversial calculations. B&Q reckons its turbines will take seven to eight years to pay for themselves at current electricity prices, but a Sussex University study suggested it could be as much as 28 years for some models."

From a review of the product

  • Earthtronic's Honeywell Windtronics WT 6500--A Review

    October 16, 2009

    By Paul Gipe

    I've reviewed the series of preproduction wind turbine designs from Earthtronics twice before. See below.

    Alas, as I was sitting in my doctor's office today I picked up a copy of Popular Mechanics and there was Windtronics. PM was gaga over Windtronics and unquestingly regurgitated Eartronics claims. So I felt I needed to look at the turbine again...

    Lest the Honeywell name lend some kind of legitimacy to the WT 6500 note that the Honeywell trademark is simply used under license. Tellingly, "Honeywell International Inc. makes no representation or warranties with respect to this product..."

    There are no units in use. One turbine has been "tested" in a wind tunnel. Thus, all claims about the product are projecture.

    Those who have followed the debate about performance measurements of small turbines realize that testing in a wind tunnel is not testing at all. Wind tunnel "tests" are useful only for design not for estimating the performance of the wind turbine in the field...

    Earthtronics web site depicts mounting the wind turbine on the roof and this theme is repeated throughout the product literature. Mounting a wind turbine on a roof is never a good idea. For why, see Rooftop & Urban Wind...

    Annual Energy Estimates
    Let's give Earthronics the benefit of the doubt and pick the higher value. For rooftop heights of 10 m, the turbine will see 5.5 m/s in a Class 3 and at it see 6.0 m/s in a Class 4...

    At 10 m (rooftop)
    At rooftop heights the turbine may produce 850 kWh/yr in a Class 3 and 1,050 kWh/yr in a Class 4 wind resource. Earthronics claims that the turbine will produce 2,000 to 2,500 kWh/yr respectively. Earthronics claims exceed likely generation by 2.4 times.

    Note that though these estimates are at rooftop heights, they are not estimates of generation on rooftops. All turbines on rooftops have performed substantially below estimates...

    At 30 m (tall tower)
    At 30 m heights the turbine may produce 1,300 to 1,600 kWh/yr in a Class 3 and Class 4 resource respectively. Thus, if the turbine was installed on a tall tower, Earthtronics claims exceed likely generation by only 1.5 to 1.6 times...

    Earthtronics claims that the turbine can be installed for $7,500. It sweeps 2.6 m². Therefore, the relative cost is $2,900/m². This could be comparable to some overpriced small turbines but is nearly three times the typical cost of commercial wind turbines of ~$1,000/m².

    My evaluation of this product hasn't changed since it was first brought to my attention.

    It is unlikely that this 500 W wind turbine will deliver the performance promised in either Michigan or Ontario.



    Updated May 22, 2009

    [About a new turbine] In comparison to other small wind turbines, the Earthtronics will need to be exposed to a wind resource of 6.5-7.0 m/s (15-16 mph) annual wind speed. Consumers are unlikely to find few if any sites in Michigan and especially at rooftop heights that windy.

    Conclusion? Again, it's unlikely that this wind turbine will produce the reported generation anywhere in Michigan by a large margin.


    December 30, 2008

    The accounts also reported the manufacturer claiming that the 5-foot (1.5m) diameter turbine would produce 1,580 kWh/year.

    Is this claim likely?

    A wind turbine of this size sweeps about 1.8 m² and could conceivably generate 1,600 kWh/year at sites with an average annual wind speed at hub height of 8 m/s. There are probably no sites in Michigan with such wind speeds and especially at the height where this small wind turbine will be installed.

    It's unlikely that this wind turbine will produce the reported generation anywhere in Michigan.

You can read his full comment at

In case you wondered who Gipes is, he won the " Individual Leadership" award from the The Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Gipes comments are a real concern and require a Company response since a major study in England stated:

  • "Domestic small-scale wind turbines do work and can generate energy and carbon savings – but only when installed properly and sited in a location with an unobstructed and appropriate wind resource."

A news article said:

  • "UK's largest wind turbine trial yields poor result
    Wind turbines suited to fewer sites than predicted

    The largest field test of domestic wind turbines in the UK has found that fewer locations are suitable for home installed wind turbines than previously predicted - with wind turbines in urban areas yielding particularly poor results.

    None of the building or roof mounted wind turbines installed in urban or suburban areas generated more than 200kWh, or £26 of electricity a year during the test, and in some cases used more electricity than they produced."

Imagine the payback time period needed for a $5,000 turbine if the savings are £26 per year.

The best location was said to be:
  • "Building mounted turbines performed best when mounted on the gable end of a building, positioned above the ridge line and located in remote rural locations, usually individual dwellings near the coast or on exposed land with an undisturbed flow from the direction of the prevailing wind."

Hmmm does not sound like there could be too many sales locations like this in Windsor.

Here is another comment I read in the WIND forum that Sandra might want to consider too to ensure her people know what they are doing:
  • "I'm seeing basically how this whole thing goes now: The people controlling the funding, in many cases, obviously don't really know anything about wind energy. They just respond to piles of paperwork by those with impressive-sounding credentials. Wow, let's explore questions based on beginners' lack of knowledge! What a great use of resources! Let's do "research" below the level of what was known way back 90 years ago when the Winchargers with 2 slender blades electrified the midwest, and declare that, rather than churning thru much-needed research dollars while "exploring" merely mundane and well-known topics, we're saving humanity from "global warming"!

    Meanwhile people actually advancing the art have the choice of stopping all progress to produce piles of grant paperwork, which, if not funded, served one purpose: stopping all progress, or just pushing on and ignoring the official hype. Ironically it becomes just one more case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.

    My opinion is that these funding agencies need to shift to a pro-active model where the funding agencies themselves take the step of identifying promising, nascent technologies, contact and liaison with the innovators, and fund research on those topics, without stopping the researcher from making progress by regressing him to the world of paralytic paperwork that has mired the agencies themselves, preventing the progress from being made "in-house" at those agencies.

    Yes, a PhD exploring whether a Bergey turbine needs more blades! That's where we're at - where credentials - evidence of hoop-jumping - outweighs knowledge, and literally, mere ignorance can be funded as cutting-edge research, while the cutting edge reseach must be funded mostly out of pocket, since no matter how many millions the agencies have, they absolutely refuse to explore anything new. Of course you can imagine some technical reviewer seeing "hmmm - low wind speed performance - sounds important - adding blades - seems logical" - cha-ching for ignorance again!"

Who is right and who is wrong? Have we wasted some more taxpayer millions or has Windsor become the centre of small wind technology? Is this really revolutionary new technology or just another idea that works in principle but not in reality? Will the Company provide to me an answer to the concerns raised that I can post?

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.