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Go renewable the right way: Granite Falls homeowner to open doors to showcase renewable energy

A small wind generator and two solar panels produce as much electricity each month as Ginger Homme needs to power, heat and cool her two-bedroom home in rural Granite Falls. She is opening her home from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 4 to show others how renewable energy can work for them, and offer insight into how to do it right. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)1 / 2
Ginger Homme, of rural Granite Falls, checks the meter her power cooperative installed to track the power she produces and uses at her home. She feeds the power she produces — with the wind generator and solar panels in the background — to the cooperative’s power grid. Her monthly electric “bill” is either a small check from the cooperative, or a $1 or $2 bill in the rare months when she uses more than she produces. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)2 / 2

GRANITE FALLS — Ginger Homme turned to renewable energy to power and heat her new home for all the right reasons.

She wanted to do what’s right for the environment, and liked the idea of eliminating her monthly electric and fuel bills.

She also learned that there is a right way to go about this, and that’s why she is opening her doors Oct. 4 to anyone else interested in renewable energy.

She is participating in the 2014 Minnesota Solar Tour sponsored by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society at locations across the state from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 4. Visitors are welcome to view her renewable energy system and learn how they can do this the right way.

Her home in Granite Falls Township of Chippewa County is located just outside the city of Granite Falls. Two solar power panels and a small wind generator produce as much electricity as she uses each month for all her needs, from lighting and cooking to heating water and heating and cooling her home.

The electricity she produces is fed to the Minnesota Valley Power and Light Cooperative power grid.

Her monthly electric “bill” is either a small check from the cooperative, or a $1 or $2 bill in the rare months when she uses more than she produces. Her monthly electric bills used to range from $81 to $145 before she installed the wind generator and solar panels.

She calculates that the two solar panels provide about three-fourths  of the power, and wind the remainder.

There is no sacrifice in making this work, either. She uses an electric-powered, geothermal system to heat and cool the home, and loves the consistency in temperature it provides.

“I have no fuel tanks outside,’’ said Homme. “I don’t have a chimney.’’

Her energy independence began four years ago, or just two years after she built her comfortable, two-bedroom home on a homestead site on farmland she and her late husband owned. The site had been vacant for a very long time: The last home there stood before electric lines reached it.

Bringing electric service to the site was one of her first lessons in renewable energy. The hook-up needs to be within 300 feet of the wind generator and solar panels, or a homeowner must pay the very expensive costs for a longer connection.

She also found herself a trailblazer when she contacted local government officials about a permit to erect her 70-foot-tall wind generator tower. At the time, the county did not really have specific ordinances to cover small wind generators.

There were other lessons to come. The company from which she purchased the wind generator suddenly “disappeared,” leaving her in a predicament when a component of the system broke down three years before the warranty expired.

She was fortunate. There are also many reputable businesses handling renewable energy systems, and she worked with one. Green Energy Products of Springfield, Minn., went the extra mile in helping her get back online, she said.

The father and son team from the company also provided the technical expertise that she needed. They had the technical gadgetry and knowledge to find the best location for the solar panels, and determine the best mix of solar and wind to meet her goal of 100 percent self-sufficiency.

They also helped her with the permitting process.

Homme said there are also tax credits and incentives for which homeowners can qualify to reduce the costs of renewable energy systems.

This November will mark the fourth anniversary of her energy independence, and Homme said she has plenty of reasons to celebrate.  None is as important as this: Each of the two solar panels keeps track of the carbon dioxide emissions saved by relying on solar in place of fossil fuels. As of last week, each panel had reduced her carbon footprint by 32,160 pounds since they began operating.

Homme said the most important lesson from her venture into renewable energy is a good one. “See what one person can do,’’ she said.

To learn about the tour, sites in the area and directions to Homme’s home, go to: http://mnrenewables.org/solar-tour

 

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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