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Thursday, December 10, 2009

THIS PROJECT BLOWS

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 at 8:00 AM

The shells of former automobiles line both sides of the wide, muddy path that runs through the lot behind the office of Pearl Road Auto Parts. Every wheel has been removed, many are missing doors and all are unmistakably worn. It’s the way the Kaplan family has been doing business for four generations — recycling the guts of dead cars to keep other cars alive — and for the mostly operational cars cruising down nearby I-480, this operation is completely concealed by a tall green fence.

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Last September, the Kaplans erected a 140-foot wind turbine on their lot that rises high above the fence and makes one point clear: Very little is wasted in this family.

While Myron Kaplan runs the auto yard, it’s his sons Jon and Kevin who have championed the windmill project. Taking advantage of a $147,500 grant from the Ohio Department of Development’s Advanced Energy Fund along with a few other federal grants, tax credits and incentives, they started digging the foundation last May.

Last Friday, a few dozen environmentalists, media types and friends of the project gathered around the hefty cement foundation for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. If the number of politicians attending a ribbon-cutting is metric for measuring its import, then it’s notable that three Cleveland councilmen appeared. Among them was Ward 15 Councilman Brian Cummins.

“I think it’s great,” says Cummins. “Jon and his father, Myron, worked on it so hard for so long. I don’t think even the people that know them, even the people and the businesses around them, can fully comprehend what they’ve achieved.”

The 65-foot-diameter blades represent the first attempt by a Cleveland business to generate 100 percent of its electricity through wind power. Before this experiment, there were no laws on the books in Cleveland on the zoning of private wind turbines. Before they could begin, the Kaplans had to work with members of council and others to create legislation and push it through the board of appeals.

“It gave us a reason to consider how we could do this so that others wouldn’t have to worry about [creating a variance],” says Cummins. “They could just abide by the laws.”

Any excess power that the turbine generates can be sold to FirstEnergy. But that was a secondary concern. “You don’t really think about selling it,” says Jon. “The point is that you want to cover your electric costs.” The turbine’s been operational since November 13, and the company reports that in the first 300 hours of operation, the turbine produced more than five megawatt hours of electricity, which adds up to about $350. At that rate, Jon believes the family will save enough to justify the investment in less than eight years.

The brothers recently started a new company called PearlWind to handle the project and — with their windmill fully operational —they’re looking to build turbines for other businesses. According to Jon, PearlWind is talking to several interested companies, but nothing has been finalized.

“The Christmas season’s coming up,” says Jon. “But it doesn’t seem like anyone’s buying a turbine for their hubby.” — Niklos Salontay

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