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February 9, 2012

Wind turbine maker bringing jobs to southern Indiana

NORTH VERNON, Ind. — A manufacturer of small, "micro-wind" turbines has moved into a warehouse that had been unoccupied since one of southern Indiana's largest employers moved out more than a decade ago.

Windstream Technologies Inc. is now in the building once used by Regal Rugs, which was once the largest employer in Jennings County, The Republic of Columbus reported. The factory currently employs 25 people, but company founder Dan Bates expects 100 more hires by 2015.

His company makes the TurboMill, an 85-pound contraption that consists of three upright turbines capable of creating up to 500 watts of electricity per hour in winds of about 40 mph. At more everyday speeds of 8.5 mph, it creates about 5 watts. The devices, which each resemble a row of three 3-foot-tall rotating barbershop poles, are made of recycled materials.

The goal is to supplement traditional electricity, not replace it, Bates said.

"There is no such thing as a silver bullet for our energy needs," Bates said. "Energy independence will come out of innovation."

North Vernon Mayor Harold "Soup" Campbell said his son, Travis Campbell, persuaded Bates to visit the city during a chance meeting with the entrepreneur. The company set up shop in the local building in November.

"It was a piece of luck," the mayor said.

Indiana is home to about a dozen wind-related manufacturers that employ about 1,100 people, said Eric Burch, director of policy and outreach for Indiana Office of Energy Development.

"It's a matter of promoting the workforce in Indiana — the skilled workforce — and the economic climate in Indiana," Burch said.

In 2010, Katelyn Hancock of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. said 2.4 percent of the state's power was wind-generated. Indiana's wind power infrastructure increased tenfold in 2009 and 2010.

Bates expects the easy-to-install TurboMills to be on the shelves of home improvement stores within a year at a price of about $650. The turbines, he said, can reduce a home's energy bill by 10 to 20 percent.

The turbines already are in use by municipalities, businesses and charities in places as far away as Ghana and as close as Lansing, Mich.

Last year, 10 TurboMills were installed at the Buffalo Bills football stadium, where wind is plentiful. Two other NFL teams have expressed interest in Windstream's turbines, Bates said.

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