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DENVER -- It's called an appliance, but it doesn't look like a refrigerator, and it surely doesn't fit in the kitchen.

But when the wind blows, Jim and Caroline Hasty of rural Denver know their newest "appliance" is saving them money instead of taking it. Plus, they feel good at the end of the day knowing they're protecting the environment.

The Hastys are the first couple in the Cedar Valley to install a Skystream 3.7 wind turbine, sources said. The manufacturer calls it a revolutionary residential power appliance.

Unlike the massive turbines found on wind farms that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each, the Skystream stream is marketed for residential use. The affordable unit -- $10,500 installed in this case -- only weighs 170 pounds and can be erected on acreages and in town.

Environmentalists by nature, the Hastys don't like the idea of a coal-fired power plant being built near Waterloo to meet the rising demand for electricity. They believe potential health hazards from burning coal isn't worth the risk. So, the Hastys decided to do something about it.

"I believe in doing what we can, so this is a put your money where your mouth is response," said Jim Hasty. "We really have an obligation; we're killing ourselves with coal.

"You can complain or be part of the solution. We're part of the solution," he added.

The Hastys have been part of the solution for almost a month. So far Mother Nature has been doing her part as well, the Hasty's said, noting the three 6-foot blades towering 70 feet above their acreage have been spinning almost nonstop.

The turbine is rated for 1.8 kilo-watts, with a peak of 2.4 kilo-watts. Hasty estimates it will pay for itself in 10 years. The turbine comes with a five-year warranty, with a life expectancy of 20 years.

A wind study on their property prior to purchase showed an average speed of 13.5 mph. That will generate about 500 kilo-watt hours of electricity per month. Winds averaging more than 20 mph will generate about 800 Kwh. An 8 mph wind is required to kick on the generator and anything more than 24 mph is excess.

The turbine feeds the house and is connected to the energy grid. A special meter records how much electricity the Hasty's buy from Alliant Energy during calm days and how much is banked when excess is produced. They don't sell power to Alliant.

"This isn't up there to make money. It's there to conserve resources," Jim said.

However, Jim said putting a significant dent in their monthly energy bill will be nice. Instead of paying $110 on average, he hopes to write checks for $35.

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Harvesting the wind for personal use is a growing trend, said Alliant spokesman Ryan Stensland.

As turbines have become smaller, more technologically advanced and affordable, the number hooking up to the grid has grown. Alliant doubled its number of residential contracts in the last five years to 75.

"We're 100 percent behind these projects … adding renewable energy. We're building our own wind site," Stensland said.

Once the decision is made to "go green," it takes time to get turbines up and running. Stensland and the Hastys said it takes several months to apply and get approved for permits, go through a safety inspection and get equipment installed.

"There is a misconception out there that people can buy a turbine and be put on the grid the next day," Stensland said.

Adding wind power to the electrical grid isn't without its challenges, Stensland said. Aging, lower capacity transmission lines will have to continually be replaced to handle heavier loads.

Skystream dealer Todd Hammen, owner of Iowa Energy Alternatives in Barnes City, said while acreages are ideal for small turbines, many urban residents are looking to generate their own power. A minimum of a half-acre of land is required with unobstructed views. Local zoning laws also need to allow at least a 42-foot tower, according to Skystream.

"This is a niche market not being addressed. I really want to provide a service providing renewable energy," Hammen said. "They (Skystream) feel like this is the next refrigerator."

Hammen is marketing turbines to fiscal- and conservation-minded people.

He expects to sell 17 this year and 50 in 2008. Hammen's banking on government help as a selling point and the assumption electrical rates will rise in the future.

If proposed wind energy legislation passes for purchasing and electrical generating tax incentives, he said 80 percent to 90 percent of the cost would be covered. That's not counting reductions in energy bills.

"If that happens I don't care what electric rates will do. I will have (customers)," Hammen said.

Contact Matthew Wilde at (319) 291-1579 or matt.wilde@wcfcourier.com.

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