Idaho's first wind farmer showcases its possiblities

BURLEY, Idaho, July 7, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Chip Thompson, Times-News, 06/26/04: LeRoy Jarolimek began creating electricity out of thin air last week.

Jarolimek isn't a magician. He's just a farmer with a passion for wind power who has spent the last two years conducting research, obtaining grant money and installing a 120-foot, power-generating wind turbine on his Burley Butte farm.

Tuesday Jarolimek held an open house for the public to see the new turbine and for representatives of state and federal agencies to address questions regarding development of wind-generated power in Idaho.

"If we can get one project like this, then we can show it's possible throughout the state," Jarolimek said, indicating his desire to promote wind energy as a way to help Idaho's struggling farms survive.

While he plans six more turbines more than twice the height of the current 20-kilowatt generator, Jarolimek is already realizing the fruits of his labor through a net-metering arrangement with Idaho Power Co. Under the arrangement, producers are credited for any power they create beyond what they use.

Jarolimek's son, Ronnie, said the turbine has generated about 360 kilowatts of power since being hooked up June 2 despite relatively light winds.

"It's been running pretty consistently," Ronnie said. "We're actually turning the meter back already."

Scott Gates of Idaho Power said Jarolimek is the first wind generator, but there are about three small hydroelectric and 10 solar producers taking advantage of the net-metering program. Some have reduced their electric bills, while others receive monthly checks for their power overages, he said.

"The wind resources in the state are actually greater than the hydro resources," said Engineer Brian Jackson of Renaissance Engineering and Design, who worked with Jarolimek on obtaining USDA grants made available by the 2002 farm bill.

Jackson is involved in projects around the state, including Val Schwendiman's $2 million, 1.5-megawatt project under way in Newdale, just east Rexburg.

Jarolimek and his family invested $30,000 for the current turbine and received a $10,000 USDA grant, according to USDA State Director Mike Field. Schwendiman has received $500,000, and Jarolimek was presented with a $20,000 grant check for research into the next phase of his project.

"The grants are a national competition," Field said, "so we feel lucky to get three."

Jackson pointed out that Jarolimek's income from the turbine is expected to repay his investment in about eight years, but suggested that an increase in energy costs would shorten that term.

Research is under way for Jarolimek's $11 million, 10-megawatt expansion of the wind farm, and he joked that he could already see the six additional turbines in his mind.

An uneasy public speaker, Jarolimek relies on his enthusiasm to get the message out about wind power and how it can benefit struggling farmers. He travels regularly around the state meeting with farmers and engineers, educating himself and sharing what he has learned.

"Keeping that knowledge in my head and saying it's mine doesn't do me any good," Jarolimek said.

And there's no better place than Idaho for prospective wind farmers, according to Gerry Galinato, an energy specialist with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. He pointed out that there are 18,000 megawatts of untapped wind power in Idaho, making it the premier state in the Northwest for wind power development.

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