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Wind, solar energy not just for wealthy, woman says

Friday, August 12, 2011
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Annette Britton hopes Chicago lives up to its nickname as she harnesses the wind to create her own electricity. She's not the first Windy City resident to install a wind turbine or solar panel, but she hopes it will influence her West Side community of Garfield Park.

The sky-scape is changing as more wind turbines pop up around the city and suburbs. Gone are the days when renewable energy seemed reserved for large corporations or those with deep pockets. Annette Britton is one who thinks homeowners -- especially those with modest means -- should be jumping on the bandwagon.

"A lot of low income people don't think that they can afford it and when I've heard people say that, that just, that's really my platform and it says of all the people who need to use renewable energy, people who are on fixed incomes and people who are on lower working class income they absolutely need to use renewable energy to be able to know that you can cut your costs by a third or more," Britton said.

Britton is installing a vertical access turbine atop her Garfield Park home. John Caravett, vice president of Earth, Wind and Solar, says it may sound sophisticated, but the operation is fairly simple.

"It's kind of like on your car your engine is driving your generator, charging your battery, running your radio, running your headlights all those things okay, but the same thing goes here. We have the wind driving the turbine blades and the turbine's turning a generator. The generator's producing electricity and it's running it into the building," Caravett said.

When the installation is completed, Britton should see significant savings.

"There's gonna be days that she'll be making more power than she's gonna be using," Caravett said. "So ideally with the size of a whole system, her home will be at the end of the year net zero home. She will have made as much energy as she uses."

Her first electric bill after bringing the solar panels online already shows results. Britton says she plans to share her progress with her neighbors -- in hopes of leading them toward more sustainable living.

"I would hope that this would become like a living laboratory at least for our community," Britton said. "I have at least five neighbors now who are very interested in watching and seeing what mine is doing so that they can plan for theirs and I'm hoping in that way we can create a new kind of block club, a new kind of block commerce association so that folks not only can band together to help be able to afford these systems. They are not cheap upfront."

A wind turbine can cost about $30,000 to install, but government credits and rebates can offset that cost by as much as 60-percent. Add that to savings on energy bills, and some say the turbine could pay for itself in as few as five years.

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