Blowin’ in the wind

Chico-based company harnesses new clean-energy technology

BRING ON THE BREEZE<br>Bob Steinacher has prepared his organic fig farm for the construction of a windmill specially designed to run on even the slightest breezes. The machine will generate power for two cooling units at the 265-acre Corning farm.

Bob Steinacher has prepared his organic fig farm for the construction of a windmill specially designed to run on even the slightest breezes. The machine will generate power for two cooling units at the 265-acre Corning farm.

Photo By Chao Yang

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Maywood Farms, already an impressive example of sustainable practices, is getting ready for a new technology that will generate clean energy.

Soon, a giant 20-kilowatt wind turbine will take owner Bob Steinacher’s mission of being environmentally friendly and conserving nonrenewable resources to new heights.

“We have an ideal location here,” said Steinacher of the massive machine. “With the chance to save money and reduce consumption, [the wind turbine] was a no brainer.”

Maywood already uses a number of methods that are eco-friendly, such as handpicking its organic figs and conserving water with a drip irrigation system for the 265 acres of trees.

This time of year, the Corning farm is a serene place with little activity except for a few workers laying the foundation for a new cooling storage unit. Come late August, the place will be bustling with pickers and packers readying figs for their eventual shipment to buyers. And if all goes well, a cooling room filled with pallets of organic figs, and the new one being built right behind it, will be powered by wind technology.

Bob Steinacher

Evergreen Development, a Chico-based firm that focuses on building with renewable-energy technology, is introducing the latest generation of turbines, opening a whole new market for green energy. Locally, company CEO Scott Jackson says, wind has generally been an untapped resource.

Corning, as well as most of the North Sacramento Valley, isn’t known for wind power. On a wind map, the region falls under a Class 2, meaning wind usually blows less than 9.8 miles per hour. But this wind turbine has been designed to pick up breezes as slight as 4.5 mph, Jackson said.

“It’s becoming easier to be more and more green, environmentally friendly and save the environment,” he said.

Jackson has already completed wind turbine projects in Berkeley and the Mojave Desert, and he’s currently working with at least eight other local customers besides Steinacher, both for businesses and residences.

The technology to harvest wind energy has been available for centuries, but until recently no one had designed a variety specifically for slower winds, he said. This new generation of turbines will greatly help to minimize the reliance on nonrenewable resources.

“I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jackson, who only recently began selling the technology. “Wind is a viable product.”

Others in the clean-energy industry are seeing the light, too. In fact, the American Wind Energy Association reports that wind technology is a booming business. In 2007, there was a 30 percent increase in wind power production.

GREEN MACHINE<br />Scott Jackson gets dwarfed by this 60-foot windmill he built at a Southern California ranch. The 20-kilowatt turbine is the same variety scheduled for erection at Bob Steinacher’s Corning fig farm in the coming weeks.

photo courtesy of Scott Jackson

Texas, California and Minnesota, respectively, are the top three states with wind power producing capacity. The Pacific Coast is a practical place, since current wind trends are predicted to increase during the next 10 years, Jackson said.

On a recent summer morning with temperatures hovering in the high 90s, the wind seemed to pick up a little as Steinacher pointed out exactly where the turbine will be erected. A little rise overlooking the acres of figs on an otherwise flat stretch of land was chosen as the site.

A smaller 3-kilowatt windmill is already set up at Steinacher’s residence, which is also powered by solar panels. He purchased both green technologies through Evergreen Development about a year ago and says he’s very pleased with the results. These days, the majority of his utility costs are from running the air conditioner and the filter for his pool.

The transition hasn’t been cheap: $66,158 after rebates. So far, with a 90 percent reduction in PG&E usage, Steinacher said he’s saved $4,500 in energy costs. He expects the investment to pay for itself in about 14 years.