Local company putting wind-energy technology on edge in Penn Township
Some of the new vertical-axis wind turbines manufactured in Pittsburgh will undergo test spins with the help of breezes gusting through Penn Township.
The turbines, built by WindStax Wind Power Systems, founded last year by Ron Gdovic of Harrison City, will be placed atop a ridge off Chestnut Lane, near Route 130 and Kistler's Golf Course, in the coming weeks before heading to their customers for final installation.
Gdovic said he's tapping into the “green-energy” market by selling turbines that are affordable for homeowners — about $7,500 for a 20-foot unit — and have a low-carbon footprint. The company also builds 40- and 53-foot-tall units.
His turbines begin generating electricity in winds as low as 5 mph, but can store enough energy to power a home for two or three days even if there is an extended period without any wind.
The frames of the tower are constructed from PVC piping, while the blades are made from a type of hard wood called okoume that is common in boats and kayaks. The units also have a solar panel.
Gdovic, who has a background in urban and regional planning, said there is pent-up demand for turbines such as those made by WindStax but few choices in the marketplace.
“We're looking at a 20-year lifespan as the industry standard, and we feel we can easily match that,” he said.
WindStax has undergone a fairly quick transformation. The company's 20-foot prototype, built in a garage in Apollo, now sits on a trailer outside the WindStax building that opened in March in Pittsburgh's Strip District and powers the offices.
A few years ago, Gdovic tinkered in his backyard with another model, which was 3 or 4 feet tall, said his neighbor, Ray Follador, who is the president and co-owner of ARK Resources, a drilling company.
ARK's 49-acre property in Penn Township will provide the test site for the turbines. The first turbine that is scheduled to be tested at the site, a 40-foot unit, later will go to Independence, Kan., to help power a shallow oil-drilling operation in a remote area.
“I believe in what he's doing,” Follador said. “I think it's a great idea, and I think it has a good application to oil- and gas-(drilling).”
Wind energy has become a big business in the last few years.
Last August, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that, as of 2010, six states met at least 10 percent of their total electricity needs with wind power. The country's capacity for wind energy has grown 18-fold since 2000, providing enough electricity for about 13 million homes, according to the report.
Titus North, executive director of the nonprofit organization Citizen Power, based in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which advocates for green-energy solutions, said he's curious to see what the market will hold for WindStax.
Vertical turbines never will be as efficient in generating electricity as a traditional horizontal-axis turbine, which has three propeller blades providing torque in the same direction, North said.
But the vertical-axis system isn't reliant on the direction of the wind and is more suitable for a residential neighborhood, he said.
“If something can be manufactured cheaply and installed cheaply, it doesn't matter if it's less efficient,” North said. “It's still bang for the buck.”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.