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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow SOLAR, WIND POWER PROVIDING HALF OF ELGIN HOME'S ENERGY NEEDS

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SOLAR, WIND POWER PROVIDING HALF OF ELGIN HOME'S ENERGY NEEDS

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY ADVOCATE: Chuck Koch relies on solar and wind power to provide about half of his Elgin home's energy needs. Rebates and tax credits have helped Koch build his system. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY ADVOCATE: Chuck Koch relies on solar and wind power to provide about half of his Elgin home's energy needs. Rebates and tax credits have helped Koch build his system. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

ELGIN — Long before the house is visible, the windmill comes into view, standing tall in the pasture, arms turning.

A second, shorter windmill, tiny blades spinning fiercely in the breeze, stands beside the tall structure.

The two windmills, plus the solar tubes on the roof of the house, are Chuck Koch's method for providing heat, hot water and other electrical power to the house he and his wife Kathleen remodeled.

The existing systems provide about half the power needed for the 2,400-square-foot home, but Koch is in the process of building a second solar collection system that will boost the amount of power generated on the ranch.

"It takes 15 years for wind to pay for itself, if you have a good wind site," Koch said while walking around the ranch one partly sunny afternoon last week.

Rebates and tax credits have helped Koch build his system, which includes computerized measuring equipment and a meter that shows the wattage generated by the windmill.

Some of the home's heat comes from the solar tubes. Each room has a thermostat, but "it takes a tremendous amount of heat storage to heat this house every day," so the Kochs use a wood stove to supplement.

On a late March day, a sunroom was summer-warm, as a combination of windows and the solar-power hot water tubes under the floor provided enough heat to keep newborn chicks comfortable.

Developing and studying renewal energy is an avocation and a part-time job for Koch, who has contracted with Northwest SEED and the Union of Concerned Scientists to promote federal legislation favoring renewable energy.

House Bill 1294, sponsored by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., would require most utilities to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020. The bill was sent March 24 to the House subcommittee on energy and air quality.

The legislation does not specifically discuss energy subsidies, but Koch said he and others who support renewable energy would like to see subsidies at least equal to those given to coal, gas and oil-fired energy generation systems.

"The fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies far exceed the subsidy for renewable energy," he said. "If there's a level playing field, renewable energy will be cost- effective — especially wind."

Koch said wind is not only environmentally friendly, it does not have the adverse health effects created by the oil and coal-dependent energy generators.

Since he began developing renewable energy for his home, Koch has become involved at several levels in promoting the idea of wind power. Last year, he participated in a La Grande forum about wind power, a discussion that attracted a number of Union County residents who expressed interest in developing cooperative wind farms.

The idea of cooperative wind farms in Union County remains just an idea, but Koch said development takes time and study.

"It takes a lot of time, a lot of work," he said. "You need to set up a wind monitoring system for a year before you install a system. That can be expensive with no return."

Overall interest in wind and other renewable power — green power — is increasing, as was shown when Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative offered its members an opportunity to buy green power at higher monthly costs.

"A large percentage of members signed up," Koch said. "That is encouraging. There was more interest in that area than OTEC realized."

As to the future, Koch said that the Northwest's hydropower sources have reached

capacity.

"Yes, hydropower is renewable, but there's not enough of it in the dam system," he said. "We want to avoid gas or coal-fired or nuclear generation. We'd rather see wind farms develop."

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