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Ferguson Michiana creates buzz with Michiana Wind Systems

Published 8:39am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ron and Tracy Galbreath of Dowagiac and David Ferguson of Eau Claire with the 49-foot turbine in front of Ferguson Michiana on M-140 North, Pipestone Township, Berrien County. Ferguson, an AT&T subcontractor, six days ago launched Michiana Wind Systems to distribute Century Wind Energy generators. Century is located in Louisville, Ky.
Ron and Tracy Galbreath of Dowagiac and David Ferguson of Eau Claire with the 49-foot turbine in front of Ferguson Michiana on M-140 North, Pipestone Township, Berrien County. Ferguson, an AT&T subcontractor, six days ago launched Michiana Wind Systems to distribute Century Wind Energy generators. Century is located in Louisville, Ky.

Dowagiac Daily News

EAU CLAIRE – Ferguson Michiana Inc., 7162 M-140 North, primarily subcontracts for AT&T, but just expanded into Michiana Wind Systems, distributing Century Wind Energy turbines.

“Ron stuck the sign out there Thursday night, then the traffic jam began,” Tracy Galbreath said Tuesday.

“(Berrien County) Farm Bureau next door is where all the farmers gather in the morning and they were all excited. There are a lot of them investigating it and there are a lot of them interested in it.

“If you were selling popcorn, the place to set your stand up would have been out here with all the cars pulling over and taking cell phone pictures. The interest is there.”

The gleaming generator has 17.5 yards of concrete in its foundation – two truckloads.
It’s 49 feet tall – 41 feet of shaft plus eight feet of blades.

Ferguson Michiana hopes to reduce its $800 monthly electric bill by a third.

AEP advised them there are “60 or less” wind generators in Berrien County and northern Indiana.

Michiana Wind Systems involves David Ferguson, Tracy Galbreath and her husband, Ron, who is a Dowagiac Union School District bus mechanic.

Tracy, former director of the Miss Dowagiac pageant, used to work in the car business in Dowagiac, which she left almost 10 years ago in October 2000 for “the dirt-digging business.”

The Galbreaths live on M-51 South in Pokagon Township. Their son, Ryan, attends Southwestern Michigan College.

Tracy is the daughter of Dowagiac City Councilman Jim Dodd and graduated from Union High School in 1981.
Ron, who grew up in Niles, graduated from Brandywine High School.
Ferguson does directional drilling, cable and duct construction and aerial/underground from St. Joseph across northern Indiana, from Michigan City to South Bend and Elkhart.
“We basically do what AT&T needs, which is just about everything,” Ferguson said. “Manholes, boring, cable, fiber we run into all the South Bend businesses. We don’t do excavating.”

Ferguson Michiana was established by Dave’s dad R.C. in 1971.

Originally, it sold a machine which split the ground to put in sprinkler lines.

“He had five boys, so I think he decided with all the cable we were putting in the ground, we were a cable company. We migrated into backhoes and machinery and bigger plows that slice the ground.”

The original sod cutter looks like a grasshopper and is displayed in the showroom, which also contains Cuthbert Insurance Agency.

“We just connected all the South Bend schools with fiber,” Tracy said. “Last year we spent all summer at Eddy Street Commons across from Notre Dame.”

“The wind company we hope will be a complement to help the underground company grow,” Dave said.

Ferguson slices the fledgling market into three categories: “small wind. We’re small wind. We’re an individual resident, farm or small business and five, 10 and 20 kilowatt. Then there’s community – bigger towers serving 25 or 50 homes. Then there’s big wind, the power company energy farms where they decide part of their power will come from wind.

“There are federal and state tax incentives and grants available until Jan. 1, 2017, for wind generator installations” which can help offset an investment of $28,000 to $30,000 by as much as 30 percent.

A smaller three kilowatt generator can run $22,000 to $23,000.

“They’re not cheap,” Dave said, “but there is a payback. How bad do you want to go green?”

“What I’ve been hearing from customers,” Ron added, “is once they start going green, they start paying more attention to turning lights off and turning pools off during the day and just running them at night. Then all of a sudden they’re saving more money than they thought. It loosens cash flow when you’ve got that money in your pocket when your bill to the power company is smaller.”

Last November Ron and Dave attended a Detroit wind conference at which Gov. Jennifer Granholm appeared.

“These guys also went to township meetings for ordinance issues,” Tracy said.
“A lot of townships aren’t ready yet,” Dave said.

Silver Creek in Cass County and Pipestone in Berrien County have recently crafted ordinances regulating wind generation, “but as a general rule, I’d say way less than half even have an ordinance. I’ve been on Web sites with webinars held specifically to talk to townships about what to do and how to prepare. It’s a stumbling block right now, though a lot of them are working on them because they know it’s coming.”

“My dad asked a couple of council meetings ago about it,” Tracy added, “and (Dowagiac) didn’t have anything yet.” Ron is interested in “at least having some discussion on the industrial park. I have a list of people who have been waiting to see it run to invite when we have an open house.”

“People want to see the product,” Tracy agreed.

“They’re ready,” Dave said of a farmer acquaintance who’s been “looking for a year and a half, but he couldn’t find anybody to do it locally. It’s buyer beware with wind generators. The seminar at Cobo in Detroit, the first thing they said was, ‘Some of the stuff you’re going to see out here isn’t going to work.’ There are a lot of people emerging into the market, so be careful.”

Michiana Wind Systems sells and installs Century Wind Energy products, designed by an electrical engineer in Louisville, Ky.

Actual wind generation “varies by location,” Dave said. “Of course, it depends on the wind, and on how much energy you consume. You could safely say a small house could easily do 50 percent. The way this works is we’re grid-connected. In our case, we put up a five kilowatt generator. It could easily be a 10 kilowatt, but we thought five would be more popular and affordable. Let’s say we’re going to put out a third or half. It goes towards the AEP meter. The more I put toward their meter, the less they can put towards me, and they keep track of it at the meter. It’s kind of a slide. If I put out more to meet my need, they’ll put out less, but I still have a need.”

“In some cases,” Ferguson added, “like a weekend and all of the lights are off and none of the evening lights are on, it’s possible we can put back into the AEP grid. It’s like tug of war.”

“We decided that standing on the outside, looking in, we were like a lot of people I’ve talked to in the last week,” Ferguson said. “They have so many questions about how this works. We decided when we started this company that we would just put one up and answer the questions as they came up. How do you install it? We did one. How does grid-connect work? Then we went through the process. We’ve seen the process, so we’re familiar enough to help people as we start to install them. That was our method: Let’s do one.”

It’s work that “goes hand in hand” with what Ferguson Michiana Inc. does, Tracy said.

“We have capable guys, know-how and lots of equipment, which a lot of companies starting out don’t have.”

“We spent a solid six months learning,” Ferguson said. “That’s just on installing. My research went a year before that. I was totally into it a year trying to find a decent company to work with.

“Ours is a small bigger system. With an Aurora inverter, everything’s in front of you that can go wrong. With some of the other smaller generators, their guts are up in the top. Their inverter and controller are up in the top. The only thing you see is a wire coming down that goes into your meter. If there’s a failure, you’ve got to go up and take care of it in transistorized parts.

“In our system it’s a little bit different. The Aurora inverter is programmable. It has bearings, but no brushes. It’s free-spinning, with no resistance, so the electricity generates around it. Nothing to wear out, nothing to service.

“The Aurora inverter we’re installing as part of the package programs up to 16 different speeds, so at 7 or 8 mph, I can put out 500 watts. When I get to 8 or 9 mph, I’m going to put out 1,000 watts; 12 or 13 mph, I’ll put out 1,500 watts.

“As the wind comes at it, the armature tightens up a little bit and makes the blades stiffer, harder to turn and more steady. Some of the cheaper models spin like a fan. It’s like holding up a pinwheel. This has more steady rpm at good operating speeds. This engineer designed them that way and programs the inverter himself because too fast is not good. You’ll wear parts out and damage the blades. Little wind, slow. Big wind, a little faster, but not like a helicopter. It’s a new field. You have to find the right person who wants to work with you.”

“This is certified through the California Energy Commission,” Ron said. “They’re going offshore up by Grand Haven. That was controversial.”

Dave gestures at a closed door leading to a room behind the conference room and hints it contains a year’s worth of “wrong stuff.”

Saturday afternoon was “gusty,” Dave recalled, and he was beneath the windmill when 14 mph activated the electronic brake and slowed the blades.

“This unit has storm-sensing capabilities,” he said. “It won’t ride through a storm, which is important. If it sees damaging gusts of wind, it will shut down. If you live down in a dip, it’s not going to work for you. But if you’re on a hill or rolling (terrain) and you don’t have a lot of big trees, you’re probably okay. Or, you can put up a wind gauge for a while like we did and watch it and record it to get an idea of what you have. Seven or eight is our average.”

Dave continued, “I talked to a guy Thursday who told me, ‘I want one. I know I’ve got wind. I want to put it up. I want to go green.’ We’ll look at that site pretty soon.

“Not every site’s going to work and it’s not going to power everything you own. I really don’t want to see them in town too much. I’m not sure about that. There needs to be setback. I don’t want them where kids are trying to fly kites, but by the same token, if you’re smart, they can fit into the environment. The wind is noisier than the machine. Wind is still a small percentage of power, like 5 percent, but it keeps growing. It’s still coal, nuclear, hydro.”

Tracy was in Chicago over the weekend and noticed some wind generators atop downtown buildings. “Maybe they were apartment complexes,” she said. “They were on top, spinning.”

“It’s new,” Dave said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there you don’t need to know to weed through to get to the stuff that’s going to be beneficial.”

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