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In Britain, wind turbines offer homespun electricity

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The B&Q, a do-it-yourself chain that looks like a British version of Home Depot with its orange banners and towering aisles of home goods, started selling domestic wind turbines two months ago for about $2,600 each. "Since going on sale, the biggest-selling product line at B&Q in value – out of more than 43,000 lines – is the wind turbine," writes B&Q spokeswoman Alex McHaines in an e-mail.

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The growing interest in wind turbines is also stirring some words of caution.

"A small-scale wind turbine on a roof is not going to generate a lot of electricity," says Nick Schoon, spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, a nonprofit that has closely monitored wind turbine developments in the country's natural areas. "The air flow over cities is not very smooth. If anything, it's a symbolic contribution. It's making a statement that you want to make a difference."

Making a difference is precisely what Howarth aims to do. No stranger to pioneering environmental efforts, he operates a carbon balancing consulting business called C Level (www. clevel.co.uk). The company has been helping clients understand and reduce their "carbon footprint" since 2000. ("Carbon footprint" is the term used to describe the level of carbon emitted by the consumption of fossil fuels. Anyone who uses energy in their homes or in their modes of transportation leaves a carbon footprint.)

Even with the likelihood of only modest returns, the idea of hoisting a propeller to harness the wind appealed to Howarth. In spring 2005, Brighton held an environmental town meeting where an audience of 200 was asked how many were using sustainable energy in their homes. Only one woman raised her hand. "I thought, 'What more can I be doing on a personal level?' " says Howarth.

So at another town meeting this past spring, Howarth made a public commitment to try to get the necessary approval to have a wind turbine installed. The response was overwhelming. "People were dropping notes through my door and e-mails through my website saying, 'That sounds great! Can you come talk to us about it?' "

The approval process required researching wind speeds on Howarth's street and having a property survey and architectural plans drawn up. The process took six months, Howarth says. The turbine was installed earlier this month.

While he gets some satisfaction knowing that he is helping to advance home microgeneration systems, the wind turbine's presence gives Howarth an unease not unlike that of a new parent. He admits he even turned it off one night when he was trying to sleep. But he says he is committed to the 18-month trial permit the city has granted to test the acoustic and visual impact on the neighborhood.

Because of the growing interest in wind turbines and solar panels, Howarth recently partnered with city officials to educate consumers about what it takes to set up these kinds of systems. The project, called "Our Generation," plans to provide a website with blogs and Google maps that plot where homeowners have successfully installed wind turbines or solar panels.

Reading firsthand accounts of the trials and successes of installing microgeneration systems could be helpful to homeowners while the accreditation process for manufacturers and information guides for consumers are being worked out. At the moment, the WindSave turbine being sold by the B&Q is a simple machine that does not store unused energy.

"We'll know a lot more [about domestic wind turbines] by next spring when the accreditation process is finished," says Ms. Wong. "The process of researching and becoming aware of your energy consumption is a positive. [But] people need to be careful in their enthusiasm and do their research to determine if their site has adequate wind speed."

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