Dr. Carlos Fernandez breeds rare Puerto Rican Paso Fino horses on his farm north of Washington D.C. A transplant surgeon by trade, Dr. Fernandez likes to work with his hands. He keeps 20 horses in two barns, has two houses, an indoor training ring and other structures on his property — all run on electricity and most of it renewable.
For the past several years, Dr. Fernandez has been working to make his horse farm energy independent using wind power.
“Our own lives have been turned upside down by the cost of gasoline going up in the last two years,” Dr. Fernandez said. “I think we would have a lot more freedom if we were to make our own power.”
Dr. Fernandez has four windmills on his property. Two are modern designs made specifically for small-scale electricity production. The other two were originally designed to pump water from deep wells.
“This particular one was manufactured in 1905. I found it basically in a yard sale. I brought it home and started playing with it to make a conversion to make electricity,” Dr. Fernandez said.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), interest in small wind technology is on the rise. The association says 10,000 turbines were sold in the U.S. last year and that number is expected to grow by 20 percent a year.
Ron Stimmel is a small wind advocate.
“The interest is just skyrocketing. People are looking for ways to seize their own energy future, so to speak, and become personally energy independent while helping to protect the environment,” Stimmel said.
Dr. Fernandez is also a dealer. Consumers can choose from hundreds of models on the market ranging from US $14,000 to $60,000. The industry says the average U.S. household uses about 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a month. These units can produce between 400 to 1,000 kWh per month depending on the available wind.
“For wind power, the main issue is site, you know — where you are going to locate the tower? Obviously trees are not very friendly to windmills unless you can get 20 or 30 feet above them,” Dr. Fernandez said.
Dr. Fernandez says he is not completely energy independent. But after installing his wind turbines, the amount of power he bought from the local utility company went down from 5,400 kWh per month to 2,000.
His most recent construction project on the farm is an indoor training ring for his horses. It is completely independent of the local power grid. Power for lighting and outlets is generated by these small wind turbines. The excess electricity is stored in batteries.
“I think sooner or later I am going to be producing more than I use here, because I am always tinkering with more power production,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Figuring out how I can get every ounce out of those turbines. Whether it is a taller tower, whether it is better electronics. My goal is to be totally energy independent.”
Reprinted from Voice of America, a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 115 million people.