Choosing a small wind turbine for your station

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KPAN: a case study

Pouring concrete around the tower base.

Pouring concrete around the tower base.

KPAN is an AM/FM combination located on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle in Hereford (elevation 3,800'). It's been in the Formby family since its inception in 1948, and today is managed and co-owned by Chip Formby. Late in the spring of this year, KPAN installed a Skystream 3.7 from Southwest Wind Power of Flagstaff, AZ (
). When I wrote "Feel the Power," KPAN had just started using the Skystream 3.7; but several months have now gone by. Formby has been able to give me more detailed information about why the station purchased that particular unit, and how the performance has been so far.

Formby has been interested in large and small wind turbines since the energy crisis of the early 1970s. As the manager of KPAN, he had been looking at wind turbines for either the transmitter or studio site. Having one at the transmitter with enough output to power the transmitter itself just didn't pencil out because of the project expense and also a very long payback time due to cheap electricity there (11 cents per kilowatt hour). But, he was determined to capture some of the free power that blew by every day; he liked the clean aspect of wind power; and he just wanted to demonstrate that wind power was a viable option. KPAN ended up buying a wind generator for the studio location instead.

Assembling the turbine blades.

Assembling the turbine blades.

I asked Formby why he chose the Skystream, and he told me that it was as much to do with its availability as anything else. He says it's the next generation in wind generators; it's completely self-contained, since the alternator, the inverter and controller are all located within the nacelle itself. There are only two moving parts: the propeller shaft and the rotator ring (which provides yaw so the turbine can point into the wind). A single cable comes out of the unit, providing 220Vac that is meant to attach to the power grid. (Rated output of the Skystream 3.7 is 2kW, measured at 20 MPH. Recently a USDA test unit near Amarillo produced 3.2kW of output in a sustained 35 MPH wind.) SWWP also specifies that very little maintenance is required: Cleaning the blades of bugs, and lubricating the system every 10 years is all Formby expects to have to do.

A crane picks the assembled tower and sets it in place.

A crane picks the assembled tower and sets it in place.

You can get to the nacelle either by laying the tower over, or by way of a bucket truck (KPAN's unit is on top of a 45' mast). Shortly after the unit was brought online, Hereford experienced a strong thunderstorm, with winds of 70 MPH and large hail. The Skystream 3.7 went through the storm with no trouble at all, save a few paint chips on the blades.

I also asked Formby about the performance of the system to date. He told me that it was a little disappointing, since the same unit located at a more rural site nearby had produced about 25 percent more power. He attributes that difference though strictly to the site; KPAN has its Skystream located inside city limits, and it is in the proximity of trees and buildings. Formby expects much better performance of the system during winter, when the trees are without leaves and (of course) the wind blows more consistently. With those performance issues in mind, he expects the payback period for the entire project (which cost a little over $10,000) to be longer than the typical 10-year estimate (unless electricity prices rise unexpectedly in future). It's also important to consider, when figuring the real cost of the system, to learn what tax incentives are available from federal, state or other local authorities. For example, on its website Bergey mentions that California, New Jersey, New York and Illinois all provide incentives for the installation of wind power. Your local utility provider may offer rebates as well.

The installation complete, the construction crew prepares for a group photo.

The installation complete, the construction crew prepares for a group photo.

Formby tells me the whole project looked better and easier on paper, and that if you were strictly concerned with the dollars and cents aspect, that you'd be better off with your money in a CD for 10 years. At the same time, we know that dollars aren't the only consideration and he feels the time will come when payback won't enter into the equation as much, and that a wind generator (especially in the Texas Panhandle — an area T. Boone Pickens calls the wind corridor of the U.S.) will be viewed as just another part of the facility.

While large-scale wind generation (or the lack thereof) is often brought to our attention in the mass-media, the reality is that small-scale wind generation has been around and available for years. What's old is new again. Our nation's current concerns about our long-term energy needs have prompted manufacturers to produce new models, to the benefit of potential new users such as broadcasters. The time may be right for your station to generate some of its own power. No one can say for sure the direction energy prices will go; but there certainly is a great possibility that they could make you look like a clairvoyant genius, five to 10 years down the road.

Irwin is transmission systems supervisor for Clear Channel NYC and chief engineer of WKTU, New York. Contact him at

Resource Guide

Bergey Wind

Proven Engineering

African Wind Power

Southwest Wind Power

More photos of the KPAN turbine installation are posted online at

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