The wind that blows across the Grizzly Peak foothills northeast of Ashland is strong enough that Interstate 5 drivers feel it buffeting against their cars.
Three neighbors near Butler Creek Road are harnessing that power to generate electricity with 13 Windspire wind turbines on and below a nearby ridge.
The cylindrical turbines are quiet, and they don't have the fan-like blades of more traditional windmills that can chop into birds. And unlike their 60-foot-tall cousins, the turbines can tap into slower-moving wind near the ground at 30 feet tall.
Windspire turbines are known for being able to use "microclimate" winds. Wind, heat and moisture conditions can vary significantly among sites that are in close proximity, creating microclimates.
Will Prust, who had four Windspire turbines installed near his house in August, said the turbines have attracted the interest of people biking and walking by his rural home.
"We've had a lot of people stop by and ask about the windmills. I think it's a measure of how important energy is as an issue in our daily lives," he said.
Each windmill cost $11,000 to buy and install, but after federal and state tax credits and rebates, the out-of-pocket cost was $3,500 apiece, Prust said.
If wind speeds are average, the windmills will pay for themselves in electricity savings in five years. They have the potential to generate all the electricity the house will need, he said.
However, this year, the wind has been light, so Prust estimated the turbines have generated 10 to 20 percent of his home's electricity during the few months he's had them.
Prust said his decision to have the turbines installed was a matter of mathematics.
"There are 6.7 billion people competing for the same finite source of energy — fossil fuels. This century, demand will exceed supply. In the next 100 years, all of us will be preoccupied with finding new sources of energy," he said.
"Historically, humans have always used the closest resources to improve their lives. We're surrounded by energy in every ray of sunshine, in every wave and in every gust of wind," said Prust, who plans to add solar panels to his house next summer.
Prust ordered his turbines back in January but didn't receive them until August because of demand.
Since then, the price per turbine has risen to $15,000, said Randy Warren, president of Green e-Technologies, the Talent-based business that installed four Windspire turbines at Prust's home, seven at his neighbor's house and two at the nearby Alpha Beta Hops Farm.
Windspire turbines are made in the United States of recycled steel and aircraft aluminum. Their manufacture has put 400 people to work in Michigan, Warren said.
A Rogue Valley native, Warren remembers visiting the Grizzly Peak foothills as a kid.
"It's notoriously one of the windiest places in the whole valley. It was a prerequisite to bring your kite," he said.
The fact that windmills are springing up in the area has renewed some residents' curiosity about whether the technology could be used on the city of Ashland's 829-acre Imperatrice Ranch land below Grizzly Peak. Located across I-5 from town, the land historically has been used for cattle grazing, although in August, the Ashland City Council agreed to let Standing Stone Brewing Co. use a portion of the land to raise chickens and other livestock.
Warren said unfortunately, the city's land is not a feasible location for wind turbines. Lines to carry electricity to the Ashland Electric Department would have to pass under I-5, a cost-prohibitive proposition.
The city could send electricity to Pacific Power lines near the land, but that electric company is buying electricity for 3 cents per kilowatt hour and wind generation costs 11 to 12 cents per kilowatt hour, Warren said.
"I don't see it as being financially feasible," he said.
City of Ashland Conservation Analyst Larry Giardina said 5 percent of Ashland's electricity comes from wind energy — but indirectly. The city pays for distant wind energy, but that goes to support research and development of wind energy sources, rather than feeding electrons from a wind project directly into the city's grid.
Ashland codes restrict the height of structures and neighbors can't intrude on each other's solar access with tall structures, making the construction of windmills very challenging in town, Giardina said.
"There's a better wind resource on that side of the valley," he said, referring to the hills below Grizzly Peak. "There's less chance of conflict with neighboring properties."
For his part, Prust is glad to be among the wind energy pioneers on the outskirts of Ashland.
"I think this issue spans the political spectrum — whether you're interested in saving on your utility bills, or you're concerned about climate change, or you believe energy independence is a matter of national security and part of the larger war on terrorism," he said. "There are lots of reasons to conserve and produce energy."
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.