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Sizing up breezes with ease

People not wanting to throw caution to the wind can instead try a device that can determine whether a windmill on their property makes sense.

The Utah Office of Energy Services is accepting applications from homeowners and businesspeople to borrow an anemometer to determine if wind speeds warrant the building and use of windmills to generate electricity.

The office has 10 available through a federal Department of Energy program called the "Wind Power America Initiative."

Although the equipment would be loaned for free, it does require a time commitment, according to Christine Watson, an energy engineer at the Utah energy-services office.

"We're asking people to use these for 14 months so there will be at least a year's worth of data," she said. "It's not for people just going for a lark. We need to see some seriousness behind wanting to borrow them."

The 10 people selected would have the anemometers — basically a set of wind-blown spinning cups — and 20-meter tower placed on their property. They would be required to remove a data-storage device monthly so the state office could analyze the results.

For a windmill to be cost-effective in providing power, the site would need to have average annual wind speeds of at least 10 mph.

"People will say that four times a year there's a big gust that takes the shingles off their house, but that won't do it," said Jon Allred, commercial/industrial program specialist in the state office. "You'll need steady breezes."

If a site does have enough wind, the state office will work with the property owner to apply for a federal energy grant or perhaps use state funds or a wind energy tax credit to help offset the cost of building a windmill.

People wanting to apply or obtain program details may call Watson at 538-8824 or the state's energy hotline at 1-800-662-3633. The deadline for applications to be submitted to the state office is April 20. Officials there will review the applications and determine whether to target businesses or homeowners as the folks to try out the anemometers. Some states have put the focus on farms.

Watson said state officials did a wind survey in 1994, but little has been done with that information. The current energy crunch is allowing people to explore wind energy alternatives, which would not face federal Clean Air Act standards for emissions — unlike coal-fired power plants favored by Gov. Mike Leavitt.

But people should not expect to have a windfall of cash from a mill, although an optimum site probably could result in providing at least 20 percent of the electricity needs of the owner. A more remote possibility is that excess power could be sold back to the utility company.

That would strike a blow for alternative energy resources.

"Wind options have always been available, but the technology is getting better and more affordable," Allred said. "Those options can become more viable, not just because it saves energy, but because it helps a person become more independent. People like the idea of not being as tied to the (electrical) grid as they were."