NOTE: The following article appeared in The Sentinel (06-17-09)
Don’t tell Jonathan Lewis that sustainable energy is a plaything of neo-hippies and Aspen zillionaires.
Lewis is neither. Yet he has built a business and a family by focusing small-scale power harvested from wind and sun. He’ll share some of his knowledge during the Goldendale Energy Exposition, Saturday and Sunday, June 27 and 28, at the Klickitat County Fairgrounds.
The timing is right, Lewis said. Prices for home-sized sustainable energy equipment are lower now than in years.
A licensed electrician, Lewis always had been fascinated by the potential of power falling on each home, on each acre of land, around the globe. To ignore the gifts of solar and wind power seemed wasteful.
The more he thought, the stronger the call of sustainable energy became. About the same time – 2003 – he and his wife Kathleen decided they needed to move. Albany, Ore., was becoming too much like a big city, with all the big city problems that can crush family life.
As Orthodox Christians, the Lewis family visited St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery on Satus Pass. They loved the feel of Goldendale. So, they moved to 20 acres off the Bickleton Highway, eight miles east of town.
But the transition involved more than 160 miles and a shift to the country. Jonathan Lewis started a new company that would focus on small-scale sustainable power. He would call it Seraphim Energy, after a biblical angel representing light.
Oddly, Klickitat County’s wind potential didn’t enter into the equation.
“Every time we visited the place, everything was nice and calm,” Lewis said. “But when we showed up with the moving truck, it was blowing 60 mph. We had trouble just keeping the furniture down.”
Today, you can see dozens of big wind turbine towers from the Lewis place. But in 2003, big wind was just getting started in the Northwest. The largest wind project in the region was near Walla Walla.
“It didn’t take us long to figure out that we had some wind here,” Lewis said. Flying furniture may have contributed to the revelation.
Entirely by chance, Lewis’ place is next door to that of Ed Kennell, who active in sustainable energy during the last big energy crisis, in the 1970s. Soon after the Lewis family moved in, Kennell erected a Bergey Windpower Co. small turbine with a rated capacity of 10 kilowatts. Lewis helped out.
“I learned a lot from Ed,” Lewis said.
That was to be Seraphim Energy’s first job in renewable power. After finding Seraphim Energy on the Internet, another neighbor, Gwen Bassetti, put up a 10 kw wind turbine on her Caldwell-Davis-Bassetti Ranch.
Seraphim’s second job. By comparison, 10 kw is enough power to illuminate 166 bulbs rated at 60 watts. But that’s only when the wind is blowing the right speed, which isn’t all the time – not even half.
Both neighbors’ remain on the grid, supplementing their load with wind turbines, selling what’s not used to Klickitat PUD.
“Then we got a 2 kw solar system in Trout Lake. From then, everything just snowballed,” Lewis said.
To date he’s installed 60 systems with a combined capacity of 150 kw, including his own solar array of 1.2 kw. Next will be his own 5 kw wind turbine. He too remains on the grid.
Today, Lewis estimates 85 percent of his work is related to sustainable power. The rest is regular commercial and residential work.
“After awhile, we figured out Klickitat County didn’t have enough people to keep us busy with renewables.” He’s stretched out to Hood River on the west, Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater on the east and Naches to the north.
The next step involves his two oldest sons. Isaac, 18, is putting together an on-line store, at which people can order sustainable energy and energy conservation kits. The site also will offer advice and how-to videos.
Oliver, 16, is the media guy, putting together the videos and taking care of the web site.
The Lewises expect the store to be running in a couple of months. They’ll let you know when, if you sign up for their newsletter. Go to http://www.in2solar.com. Click on “Sign up for our free newsletter” at the top right corner of the page.
Now is a good time to get serious about home-sized sustainable energy, Lewis said. Last year, big solar projects raced to complete installation before federal incentives expired. To meet the demand, manufacturers increased production.
Turns out, the federal incentive program was extended, but now the big players have trouble getting credit in today’s economy. That means a lot of solar and wind stuff is looking for a home – cheap.
“This time last year, you couldn’t get a wholesaler to listen to you. Things are a lot different today,” Lewis said. He expects prices to rise next year, if the economy improves.
Meanwhile, incentive and federal stimulus money is growing for home-sized installation.
You can find a state-by-state compilation of programs at http://www.dsireusa.org. (It stands for Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.) The site also includes federal stimulus and traditional incentive programs.
This all greatly pleases Jonathan Lewis. Six years ago, he was scratching for a living, working with neighbors. Today, he has a thriving business anchored overwhelmingly with the sustainable economy.
Jonathan and Kathleen Lewis have five good reasons to keep the future bright – their kids: Isaac, Oliver, Addison, Mara and Elsbeth, ages 18 to 8.
Goldendale Energy Exposition
June 27 – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
June 28 – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Klickitat County Fairgrounds
Cost is $1 per person for both days, under 5 is free.
A partial list of some of the exhibitors:
• Vertical-axis residential wind turbine – MT Environmental Technology
• New 2010 hybrid automobiles – Toyota of Yakima
• For the kids – solar water fountain, solar oven, solar misting station, solar heating and cooling, pedal-power generator – Franklin County PUD
• Straw bale construction and earthen stucco finish – Sustainable Homestead Learning Center
• Solar panels, horizontal-axis residential wind turbine, on-grid and off-grid system integration – Seraphim Energy
• Sustainability tips – Reduce auto idling, cleaner woodstoves, alternative burning techniques – Washington Department of Ecology
• The big stuff: -Windy Point Partners, owners of the wind farm south of Goldendale
• Retrofit for sustainability – Cutaway home showing energy-efficient windows and doors, free outlet gasket kits, alternative hydro, and generation from landfill gas – Klickitat PUD.