The Hopi people have a legend about the wind. It is said that their tribe was troubled by the constant gusts that blew away their seeds and crops, and that they sent two little war gods to stop the wind god Yaponcha from all of his huffing and puffing. With the wind gone, the heat became unbearable. Recognizing the error of their ways, the Hopis sent the war gods back to make peace with Yaponcha. Since that time the winds have blown just right—not too hard, not too soft—and the Hopis are friends with the wind.
In October 2008, Keith and Jessica Abrams of Coxsackie made good friends with the winds as well, honoring the great blustering force that tracks across the Great Lakes toward the East Coast. They opened their business Green in Greene, which specializes in the distribution and installation of full-service, residential wind turbines.
The couple’s brainstorming began back on Earth Day of last year. As the parents of a six-year-old son, they wanted to take part in preserving the environment for future generations. They wanted to provide a source of clean, sustainable energy to the people of Greene County and beyond, and they sought to provide jobs to members of their community. Exploration of solar power left them less than bright on its prospects as an energy source. Relatively new technology meant that harvesting the sun’s rays could only provide about 18 percent mass-produced efficiency. The Abrams also had doubts about solar power’s reliability in a less sunny clime. They turned toward their ongoing research of an energy type that was 95 percent efficient, and better suited to the capricious and sometimes volatile weather conditions of the Northeast, a power that would be supported by the altitude of the Catskill Mountains.
“The answer was blowing in the wind,” says Jessica.
Keith had worked as a contractor for many years. He had been involved in historical restorations, with a focus on mostly larger, commercial projects, never losing his belief in the value of recycling. Waste costs on projects were commonly reduced by his reuse of scores of materials: residual lumber, plumbing supplies, tiles, drywall, even brick. Although Jessica was also involved in that business, as a bookkeeper and manager of human resources, Green in Greene is different. The small-scale wind harvesting business is an entity they have created together. It’s their baby.
Jessica spends time on marketing, getting the word out about the importance of finding alternative energy sources in this age of global crisis and increasing electricity and fuel prices. She has created a website for Green in Greene full of information on the spread of diseases caused by climate change, the benefit of herbs and chemical-free cleaning; she is proud of the links forged with organizations such as Green Jobs Now and Al Gore’s We Can Solve It. The Green in Greene team is, in fact, a regional captain for Gore’s initiative.
Keith was trained in the installation of wind turbines at Southwest Wind Power in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Abramses investigated several operations before they settled on Southwest Wind. They enjoyed the company’s practicality and business sense, its understanding of turbine engineering, its dedication to testing its products in even the most extreme climates, and its lengthy history of success. For Green in Greene, Keith and Jessica chose to purchase Southwest Wind’s Skystream 3.7 model, which had been working flawlessly in the field for seven years.
The number “3.7” refers to the diameter of the blades in meters. Standing 33 to 50 feet tall, the Skystream 3.7 units look like colossal pinwheels. The center of the wheel is called the nacelle. Three six-foot-long blades exten from the nacelle, creating a 12-foot diameter. Their special curvature creates twice the amount of lift as straight blades might, and they face passively downwind. In this manner, the equipment is barely strained, and, barring any unseen catastrophe, maintenance is not required for 20 years after installation. Given that they are built to withstand 185-mile-per-hour winds, the roof of a house might cave in before these units topple. Yet they are gentle giants. Their soft hum alerts birds and bats to change their flight path, protecting wildlife. Otherwise, operation is extremely quiet, and the blades will do their work even in winds as tranquil as eight miles per hour.
Keith explains how they function: “The wind turns the blades, and the generator converts the kinetic energy of the wind from DC power to AC power in the nacelle. When the power comes down the pole from the nacelle, it’s grid compatible and can be connected to any electrical system. Electricity is like water. It takes the path of least resistance. The home will take from the generated power first before it takes it from the grid. The greater the wind speed, the more power is generated, and the less that home needs to take.”
Bob Longewell of Hillsdale was one of Green in Greene’s first residential clients, and he is also noticing how his 50-foot-tall Skystream 3.7 tower is making a difference. “When it’s producing more electrical power than I’m using, it will stop the meter or turn it backward, which is credit to me,” he says. “Plus, I love to watch the turbine when it’s whipping in the wind.
Longewell found Green in Greene through an advertisement in his local paper. He had investigated turning to solar power, but feared he did not have enough sun to make this feasible. He knew he had wind, and he decided he wanted a windmill. He had spoken to other providers, but was not satisfied. When he talked to Keith, he knew he had found his installer. Keith’s simple, straightforward manner and thorough knowledge sold him on Green and Greene, particularly after the two men had met on Longewell’s property so that Keith could evaluate the viability of the site.
Such site evaluation is given to clients for free or at minimal cost (to cover travel expenses) after an initial phone contact seems to indicate that the location is suitable for a wind turbine. While wind maps of Greene County reveal an average wind speed of 12 miles per hour, such maps are only 80 percent accurate. A site must have at least eight-mile-per-hour winds, but more ideally it should average a wind speed of ten miles per hour, and Keith must determine that this crucial component is in place. The property must span at least one-quarter acre and be unobstructed by tall trees and structures, which create undesirable turbulence. Lastly, local zoning must allow a structure that is at least 42 feet high. Happily, Green in Greene does work with local governments to create new ordinances if none are in place. In fact, in an effort to avoid legal impediments, Jessica and Keith have been methodically contacting town after town in Greene County and the surrounding areas so that future clients will experience no delays in their journey from site evaluation to turbine connection.
Apart from potential restrictions due to undesirable location issues and legal stickiness, there are a few other downsides to wind power. At present, there is a six-to-eight-week waiting period for a Skystream 3.7 to arrive from Arizona, although the Abramses hope that this window closes as increased demand ramps up supply. Further, the initial financial outlay of $20,000 for equipment and installation may take up to five years to recover, although state and federal programs do provide grants, incentives, and tax breaks, including a 15-year exemption on property taxes.
Keith and Jessica also point out that installing a wind turbine means decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and foreign supplies of energy. Over the course of its 20-year existence, the Skystream 3.7 can offset more than 6,000 pounds of global warming pollutants. In the process, it feeds energy back to the utility grid, boosting the grid’s capability. Once the windmill is paid off, money is saved, freedom is gained, and the environment is nurtured. And if small-scale wind harvesting catches on, the local economy will be stimulated by the creation of green-collar jobs and the increased values of homes that use wind power.
Currently, Green in Greene serves all of New York State and certain territories within Massachusetts, but the Abramses are pleased by the prospect of working outside these limits. Blazing bravely forward like the good wind itself, Keith and Jessica Abrams would surely make the Hopis proud as they harness this natural force for the benefit of all.
Green in Greene: (518) 731-2098; www.greeningreene.com
- Keith Abrams, Jessica Abrams, Assemblyman Tim Gordon, and Coxsackie Town Supervisor Alex Betke at the Green Jobs Now Event in Earlton on October 18, 2008.
- Southwest Windâ€™s Skystream 3.7 model wind turbine