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Published: Sunday, 7/5/2009

Winds of progress blow through Ottawa County

A group of dignitaries is assembling at the Lake Erie Business Park west of Port Clinton tomorrow for what they hope will be the start of something big.

America's first commercial installation of a product called a WindCube will be put on the roof of Crown Battery's Renewable Energy Center in the 436-acre park along State Rt. 2 in Ottawa County.

The park, between FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse nuclear plant and the Ohio National Guard's Camp Perry, is undergoing a facelift. Its owners, Jim McKinney and Dave Fahrbach, have hired Perrysburg developer Larry Dillin to help market it as a showcase for alternative energy.

When I first heard of the WindCube, I thought it was a new video game console to compete with the Wii, XBox 360, and PlayStation 3.

It's actually a new breed of wind turbine, something built for a niche market. It's bigger and more sophisticated than a farmer's turbine from yesteryear; it's smaller and more practical than modern commercial-scale turbines such as those west of Bowling Green used to generate municipal power.

The WindCube resembles a large box fan, except that it sucks in air instead of blowing it out.

Those familiar with its design claim it doubles the velocity of wind before it reaches the turbine, making the device highly efficient because of its ability to amplify even moderate wind.

"The smallest footprint with the most amount of power," said Mark Cironi, president of the company that invented it, Green Energy Technologies of Akron.

At a price tag of $279,000, many of us won't be putting them on our rooftops anytime soon.

But what's neat about this story is how markets are converging and creating incentives for renewable power in different shapes and sizes, albeit with a major boost from federal grants and subsidies. Name one form of energy that doesn't have them, though.

The WindCube is being marketed to manufacturers, big-box retailers, college campuses, commercial office buildings - even cruise ships, Mr. Cironi said.

It could be attractive to pretty much any major users of electricity hoping to offset future electricity costs by about 25 percent, Paul Belair, president of Roth Bros. Inc. of Youngstown, an equity partner, said.

"Everyone's looking at this as a hedge against future price increases of electrical power," he said.

Founded in 2006, Green Energy Technologies foresees a market emerging not only because electricity costs are going up, but also because nearly all states now have net-metering laws that require at least partial compensation for any surplus electricity that homes and businesses put on the grid.

Manufacturers such as Crown could end up with a little surplus for the grid on weekends when production's down, said Wendy Schweiger, a Green Energy Technologies spokesman.

"We really hit a niche. The real void was in that middle market," Mr. Cironi said. "We're hitting a sweet spot that everybody's missing."

Someday, perhaps, we'll look back at the fall of 2003 and the summer of 2009 as landmark eras for Ohio's energy production.

The fall of 2003 was when commercial-scale wind turbines began operating in Ohio, when the first two of those four mammoth turbines inside the Wood County landfill went up. They're now managed by Bowling Green and its nonprofit wholesale power supplier, AMP-Ohio.

What's next? Offshore wind power?

Ohio could be involved in that too.

The Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission, a policy group representing the Great Lakes states, has identified the central and eastern basins of Lake Erie - basically, Cleveland and points east - as the most likely spots for offshore wind power to begin in the Great Lakes region.



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