We've all seen it. The deserted old farmhouse sits next to a paint-hungry barn with rusted farm tools lying half-buried in the ground. Standing guard over it all is a creaky old windmill. Wind slaps the tail blade and the big fan wags its lazy head.
Today windmills are being reenlisted to help fight the war on oil bills, barrels, and barges.
Technological tinkering has created sleek new windmills of fiberglass, aluminum, or wood that look like they should be beating giant eggs, or lifting jumbo airplanes off the ground. Instead, they generate electricity -- and a lot of if:
* The Clearwater (Fla). Times installed a $140,000, triple-stacked, 15 -kilowatt wind system to power its computerized electronic editing, lights, and heat.
"While we realized this system would not be costeffective," spokesman Gary Wilson says, "our aim was to create a model building of the future. We wanted an energy-efficient showplace to help advance innovative energy systems."
* Art Cook will be using three windmills to provide electricity and water for his farm in Somerset, Pa. An old, rebuilt Jacobs generates 300 kilowatt hours of electricity a month and a brand new Darrieus (which looks like an eggbeater) will provide his farm with an additional 700 kilowatt hours. A third windmill pumps water.
"I feel like I'm investing in energy, just like you buy gold or stocks. Energy prices in 10 years will be so high that a windmill today is an investment for tomorrow."
* Pennsylvania winds help generate electricity for John D'Angelo's home in Fairview. Mr. D'Angelo also is working on a system that will enable his windmill to charge the batteries of the electric car he expects to have some day.
"I am looking toward total energy independence," he says. "But more than this, I feel we now have to look at energy issues morallym -- not just economically."
* Mike Frederick has connected his windmill to the local utility grid in Alma , Kan. When his windmill generator is producing, Mr. Frederick sells excess power to the utility company. When the wind isn't blowing, he buys electricity from the company. Through this arrangement, Mr. Frederick has cut his electricity bill from $45 a month to about $25.
His machine cost about $5,000, but with federal and state tax credits, Mr. Frederick paid only $2,400.He expects it to pay for itself in six to eight years.
"I see our country's future tied into our communities -- everybody helping everybody else. I sell my excess power to the utility, they sell power to me when there's no wind. My neighbors, who are also tied into the utility, do the same. We help each other out."
Wind industry sources estimate between one-half million to 1 million small windmills such s these will be generating 1 percent of US electrical needs in 20 years; windmills overall are expected to account for 3 to 5 percent.
Anticipating this potiential demand, some 35 to 40 small windmill manufacturers in the US have jumped into the market. They currently offer 67 different models, which run between $8,000 and $12,000. the companies are generally under five years old, reflecting the impact of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo. Total sales have amounted to about 3,000 wind systems in the United States.
But a number of factors promise to boost sales considerably. Federal and state financial incentives for individuals and business, combined with large research contracts, promise to put the windmill on the energy map of America.
"It's just a question of time" says Ben Wolff, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, who has visions of windmills whirling down assembly lines within five years.
"In 1970 when I first got involved with wind power, if we told people we were involved with wind energy they fell of their chairs laughing. Now, of course, it's a different story."
As wind machines get cheaper, Mr. Wolff says, and the price of energy continues its upward spiral, "you are going to see a lot of people turning to the wind for cheap, clean, renewable energy. And when they turn, the wind industry will be there to meet them."
Legislation recently passed by both the US House and Senate, now being hammered out in conference committee, will raise federal tax credits for individuals who purchase wind systems from the current 22 percent to probably somewhat less than 50 percent of the cost, up to $5,000 (if the provision comes out intact). Businesses will get a 30 percent credit.
A number of state laws also provide wind- power tax incentives:
* California: 55 percent tax credit.
* Kansas, Vermont, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Michigan: 25 percent tax credit.
* Wisconsin: 24 percent tax credit.
But there are some hurdles to cross before small windmills begin popping up like TV antennas.
Marcellus Jacobs of Fort Myers, Fla., who first patented wind electric plant designs in 1928, has reentered the windmill business. He has joined forces with Control Data Corporation and will offer an 8-to 10-kilowatt model in April.
"The price of energy brought me back into the windmills," Mr. Jacobs says. "But I am concerned about some of the wind machines I've seen. People seem to think you can put a shingle on a broomhandle and call it a windmill."
And George Tennyson, a US Department of Energy (DOE) specialist who is testing small wind machines in New Mexico, says: "We're still at the 'Model T' stage with wind- mills. While there is a great deal of interest in wind power, we still have a ways to go."
N. C. Strumpell, owner of Kedco Inc., which makes windmills in Inglewood, Calif., feels most people don't live in areas where the wind is strong enough to make windmills feasible.
"From what we can see, wind power is the least cost-effective way to generate electricity," he says. "The average person doesn't live where there is enough wind to make this practical. If you can see a flag standing straight out, then you can get your investment back. Bur right now people are buying wind- mills as an emotional issue."
Before buying a windmill, the experts advise, consider the following:
* Will building and zoning laws allow for it?
* Do I have a good wind site? (generally one with an average wind speed of 12 to 15 mph, or over.)
* Will I need someone to assist me in settin it up?
* How much am I paying for power now?
* Can I get insurance?
* Do I want to hook up to my local utility or do I want to be independent?
Utility companies generally can produce electricity at 4 or 5 cents per kilowatt hour, while most small windmills are still 5 to 10 cents from that. But this figure is coming down through research and tesing.
The DOE will spend about $63 million dollars in its 1980 budget on wind systems, of which $12 million to $13 million will go toward small installations.
At a Rockwell Corporation and Department of Energy joint project in Rocky Flats, Colo., more than 100 small wind machines, representing 12 commercially available models in the 1-to 40-kilowatt category, have been purchased for testing.
Two windmills are to be placed in each state for a one-year evaluation, to provide future consumers with performance data. Many in the wind industry consider this test a make-it-or-break-it situation.
Sources of information on windmills and wind power: Agencies:
The American Wind Energy Association, 1621 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20009 (phone 202-667-9137); or your state energy office. Publications:
1comprehensive list of resources and windmills commercially available, plus articles on wind power.
Wind Power Digest (Quarterly magazine: $8 US subscription rate) Address for both publications: Wind Power Digest, 109 E. Lexington, Elkhart, Ind. 46514.
Windletter, American Wind Energy Association, 1621 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.