A near-deadly accident sealed Garth Ward’s decision
to pursue a full-time career in wind power.
Six years ago while working as a homebuilder, Ward fell three stories on a job site. He recovered, but things were different after the fall. “My building years were over. I was definitely finished. So I took a look at the bright side. Hey, I can still get around good, I can still go to work, and I have 3 ribs that weren’t broken, I win!” he says with a chuckle. After 42 years building high-end timber frame homes, Ward switched his business focus to wind power, a passion of his for years.
Why wind? Ward says he saw a viable product and an opportunity to help shift society in a more sustainable direction. “I’m an old guy,” he says. “I want to make a difference on my way out.”
Ever since the early 1970s Garth was the one to get a new copy of the “Mother Earth News” and see what the new idea was in home power production. A time when “Alternative Power was nothing more than an old car alternator with some big blades on it, stuck up in a tree or on a pole. Give me a couple of car batteries and we’re ready to go with 12v of free power. Where’s that old car radio”?
Those days are a mere memory of improvisation and invention. Current units are more powerful and some of the new units tie directly into the home power supply. In his past 42 years of building homes the phrase that he has heard many times is ” I’d sure like to go off the grid with this place”. Until 7 years ago there had been little advancement in home size or “Small Wind” technology.
Today Ward runs Traverse City, Mich.-based Michigan Wind Power LLC. Ward’s Skystream dealership services a large swath of the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Michigan. He and his wife live in a 3,000 sq. ft. energy efficient home he built by hand in his spare time. It took 3 ½ years to complete and only uses an average 675Kwh per month without help from his 2,400W Skystream wind unit.
Sold on Skystream
Ward followed Skystream since beta testing, and was convinced that the unit would redefine the small wind industry. He says he still feels that way. “I want to sell the best product out there. I’m really happy with the performance,” Ward says. “It’s quiet, and it’s an art piece. It really makes a statement with its looks and style.”
By focusing his efforts, Ward says he can deliver the best service to his customers. “The only thing I sell is the Skystream. I want to stay on top of it and not divert my concentration by adding other products or services,” he says.
In the six years he’s been a Skystream dealer, Ward has watched as Southwest Windpower refined and upgraded the unit in response to early product issues. “Southwest has been making the good product even better,” he says. “As soon as an issue is noticed, Southwest gets out there and takes care of it. That’s the kind of company I want to work with.” .
For the first few years he was the only authorized dealer in Michigan. Since this product has come to market he has given more than a hundred talks about his product on topics that cover most any logical question one might have on the subject of small wind and his product.
Education is Key
The biggest challenge to more widespread adoption of wind power in Michigan, Ward says, is restrictive and exclusionary zoning practices and a lack of awareness about small-scale wind power. “It’s really hard to change the minds of people that have negative preconceived ideas,” he says. Complicating matters for Ward are the state’s 1,242 zoning districts and their inability to come to a unified consensus on small wind in the state. To counter these challenges, Ward takes a multi-faceted approach to educate consumers and authorities about the viability of small wind.
Boats and Bridges
In 2009 Ward completed a project at Straits State Harbor in Mackinaw City, Mich. Eight Skystream turbines supply the boat marina with renewable energy to offset its grid electrical use. The 132-slip facility on the shores of Lake Huron benefited from a grant for rebuilding Michigan marinas. The turbines power winter bubblers and offset electric costs for lighting and other activities in the summer. The $14 million marina also includes green features such as recycled materials and natural rainwater runoff filtering.
But the best benefit of this project may be the visibility it brings to small wind. Tourist ferries to popular Mackinaw Island pass within 150 yards of the site.
Ward is pursing additional marina projects and a potential 16-turbine install on a bridge causeway along with his residential installations.
A custom trailer with a functioning Skystream on a tilt-up tower has become Ward’s single most important marketing tool.
During busy tourist months, Ward raises and activates the mobile unit near the Mackinaw marina, or in other high-traffic locations. Ward notes large increases in visitors to his Web site after each day he places the unit in the field.
Ward also brings his mobile demo to various colleges, universities, energy fairs, electric utilities, zoning meetings along with local government agencies and the public, to demonstrate the viability of distributed generation wind power. “I can roll into a site, plug it into their garage, and show them an operating turbine, and display the power output on our computer interfaced Skyview program,” he says. “Seeing is believing.”
Ward is building partnerships with local colleges to help create more momentum for expansion of the small wind infrastructure in Michigan. Calling for companies in the private sector to share their time and technology to promote the quality education of our next generation. Ward refers to these individuals and companies as the “educational collaborators”.
Close to home in Traverse City, Garth is “collaborating” with Northwestern Michigan College on the installation of a Skystream during the expansion of their alternative energy training facilities there. (Michigan Wind Power will donate a 45′ tower to the effort). He also plans to help develop curriculum in renewable energy at the college relative to the new Skystream technology and it’s possibilities.
Ward is also collaborating with Northwestern Michigan College in an effort to help them become the educational hub for alternative energy information in Michigan. The college would be the perfect site for wind related expos & fairs in Michigan. This would be database of information at a centralized site that is easily accessible to students and the general public from around our state. This wind fair will be the first major wind energy event in the state held independently from solar energy events.
Power to the People
Ward’s enthusiasm for wind energy is contagious, yet his approach to business is firmly grounded in the limitations of climate and topography. His commitment to education demonstrates a long-term strategy. Michigan Wind Power’s “Power to the People” approach is shaping a platform for long-term success.
Ward is currently seeking the new IREC certification of his 6-hour “Small Wind Energy Systems in Michigan” continuing ed. Seminar, along with the other classes that he offers. “This certification just adds more credibility to the information disseminated within the renewable energy movement”, Says Ward.