DEERTON - Christine and Sam Simonetta's energy source is 126 feet tall. It's a wind turbine that produces 100 percent of their home's electricity. "Most of the resources that we use to get electricity are from fossil fuels and we'll burn them and there are emissions, but with wind energy, once you're making the initial investment, the fuel is free and clean," Sam Simonetta said. He added that by not burning fossil fuels for electricity, the wind turbine has saved about 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in less than a year. The Simonettas, who moved to the Upper Peninsula in 2001, said they always wanted an energy efficient home that uses renewable energy. So, after months of searching, they found the ideal spot: 15 acres at 1,000 feet at Onota Hill near Deerton - a spot that overlooks Deer Lake by Shelter Bay. "This is the biggest hill in Alger County, they say," Simonetta said. "The closer to Lake Superior, the better the wind." The Simonettas invested about $20,000 in their residential wind energy system - a cost that can run as high as $80,000, depending on the type of system, they said. The couple added, although the investment they made was not small and the pay-off is long-term, they did not put up a wind turbine to save money. "I think most people that are doing it and will be doing it are not doing it for the financial gain, but because they believe in it," Simonetta said. The couple added that it is important for them to use clean and efficient energy. "I think what's essential here is to rethink our consumption patterns. That's what sets up the need for energy," Christine Simonetta said. "I just feel like we need to simplify." Her husband added that he believes Americans use too much energy and are wasteful with it. "One example is, you walk into a store and you go through automatic doors - they use energy," he said. "I think if we were more conscious of our energy use, we could solve a lot of our energy problems." To erect the wind turbine, the Simonettas had to locate the highest point of their property, which happened already to be in a clearing. Then a cement base was constructed to hold up the tower. For the electrical parts a trench was dug from the tower to the inverter in the house. "The wind turns the blades," Simonetta explained. "There is an alternator right behind the blades that produces the electricity." Electricity is then sent to an inverter, where the power is synchronized with the utility grid, he said. In order for the blades to turn, the wind only needs to reach about 10 mph -that's based on annual average wind speeds - for it to be effective for his residential household, Simonetta said. He said that an average household uses 800-1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month, while the Simonettas use just 225 kilowatt hours per month. This number is low in part because of Simonetta's Five-Star energy rated house.
Sam Simonetta explains the inverter that synchronizes energy produced by his 126-foot tall wind turbine. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)