Gary Harcourt - hooked on wind power
An interest begun with his brother, grows after his brother's death
Gary Harcourt, a cabinetmaker on the Vineyard for the past 20 years, got interested in renewable energy through his brother Glen, who used to live and work here. The brothers talked about pursuing that interest together, but after Glen died two years ago in a plane crash, Mr. Harcourt decided to go ahead on his own.
He has been educating himself about wind energy systems specifically through reading and research, and he attended a wind power conference in Wisconsin. He even flew to Utah to learn how residential wind energy systems are built, in preparation for installing one for a potential Chilmark client.
Kate Warner of West Tisbury, a strong proponent of alternative energy sources on the Island, also gave him a push, and now, he says, "I'm hooked."
Photo By Susan Vaughn
After putting up one of the small residential wind energy systems on his own property in Oak Bluffs last fall, Mr. Harcourt, 45, decided to start his own business, which he calls Great Rock Windpower. He also installed one of the systems this spring in upstate New York, where he grew up and where he said hundreds of the systems are being built.
Mr. Harcourt also conducted a wind power workshop for the public after so many people started asking him about the new systems.
"A lot of people were really interested," he said. "It's great to see the interest."
Despite some individual's interest in wind energy, there has been a lot of opposition to the Cape Wind project on Horseshoe Shoals. Mr. Harcourt said he can understand people "not wanting the space used up." However, he believes the tradeoffs of wind systems are better than the coal and other power plants, which are also very visible and not attractive sites on the landscape.
"I'm definitely pro-wind power," Mr. Harcourt said, and he would love to see more wind power systems on the Island. He noted that some towns like Tisbury, Aquinnah, and Edgartown are looking into various proposals. Chilmark selectmen also recently expressed support for a new wind power plan proposed for Nantucket Sound.
The small wind turbines are called residential wind energy systems. Their power rating is 4.25 kilowatts, which is not totally accurate, but used because it is the familiar term. He said there is an effort to get away from using the kilowatt rating, and start rating the systems by "windswept area" because the amount of power generated depends on wind speed.
For example, he said the system he hopes to install for Robert Green in Chilmark will generate an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 kilowatt hours per year. That same system installed somewhere else, like Aquinnah or Chappaquiddick, with hillier or more open terrain, could generate even more power, Mr. Harcourt said. "There are a lot of great spots on the Island," he said, that would be good for the small wind systems.
Installing the systems is not very complicated, Mr. Harcourt said. "A really handy person could put one up." However, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a renewable energy trust set up by the state, offers rebates on the systems, only if a licensed electrician hooks them up.
The residential wind systems last about 20 years, and will pay for themselves in about half that time, depending on the amount of wind, Mr. Harcourt said. "We're shooting for a cost of about 11 cents per kilowatt hour," he said, compared to the average 22 cents for traditional power.
Mr. Harcourt also has become familiar with the regulations for the wind power systems in the Island towns. Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury have bylaws that pertain to the new wind systems, such as tower height requirements and setbacks. Chilmark has bylaws that refer to "windmills," and are being applied to the new wind turbine systems.
The regulations also specify concern for neighbors of someone proposing a wind tower. Mr. Harcourt said he encourages his clients to contact all their neighbors, as he did when he installed his own wind tower on a small knoll next to his Against The Grain cabinetmaking shop and home on Morgan Luce Lane in Oak Bluffs.
The 85-foot tower is about 100 feet from four of his neighbors, but none objected to it, Mr. Harcourt said during a visit to the site of his tower. He talked to all of them before he applied for the permit, and they even signed an agreement he wrote up.
"Most of my neighbors seem to love it," Mr. Harcourt said. "You don't really see it unless you're looking up." The wind tower can't be seen through the trees from Morgan Luce Lane or Sea Glen Road, but can be glimpsed in an opening off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.
"It comes down to attitude," Mr. Harcourt said. "You're either for it or not."
The residential wind system is a simple structure. Mr. Harcourt's turbine, as well as the one Mr. Green hopes to have, was made by a company in Utah. The steel pipes for the tower came from Washington State, but Mr. Harcourt hopes to get the pipes for Mr. Green's tower from Pennsylvania.
The pipes come in four sections and are laid one on top of each other, then tied to wires that are hooked into four concrete foundations. An electrician connects the wires at the top and base and to the circuit breaker.
The tower can be easily be installed by two people, Mr. Harcourt said. Tyler Studds, his co-worker in the cabinet business, is also working with him on the new venture.
Mr. Harcourt is enthusiastic about his new business venture. "The wind thing is sort of fun right now," he said, adding that he's not making any money on it yet.
He is optimistic that the renewable energy systems will become more prevalent on the Vineyard. "We want to get people fired up," he said.