Don Coffey’s idea to install a power-generating windmill on Fort Hill may draw puzzled looks from some, but he says that’s OK as long as people start considering alternative energy sources.
Coffey originally proposed building a windmill at Fort Hill, officially Leslie Morris Park, in an Aug. 5 letter to the editor published in The State Journal. From there, he was invited to speak about his idea Sept. 16 at the Unitarian Universalist Community.
While the Fort Hill windmill sparks interest, Coffey says his true concern is developing sustainable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydropower, as fossil fuels become scarcer.
“The windmill is a symbol,” Coffey, 75, said in an interview with The State Journal. “This is my real subject.”
Coffey estimates a windmill would cost about $3.5 million total including installation and could power between 500 and 2,000 homes, based on assumptions and depending on the windmill’s strength. He and Mike Claffy, who listened to Coffey’s presentation at the church and joined his cause afterward, sought advice about the idea from engineers at the Frankfort Plant Board Friday.
Coffey, who retired 10 years ago from a career in public health with the state and in the U.S. Department of Defense, said the plant board was “very knowledgeable” about the prospect of capturing wind power, but any strategy must be vetted first.
“We’re not the first persons that they’ve talked to about the prospects of wind, and I think they’re quite open to it provided feasibility can be shown very solidly with good facts and figures that a windmill would pay for itself and produce electricity and be cost-effective,” he said.
“They have to be certain if that’s a prospect before they could commit to it.”
However, Frankfort and the Southeast in general are not known for strong wind currents like in the Midwest and western U.S. Modern windmills have been installed in states like Indiana, Illinois and Iowa in recent years.
Coffey said he’d like to see wind statistics at higher elevations here, like Fort Hill, before writing off the idea of wind power.
“I’d like to make the point that low wind is not no wind,” he said. “Right here in Frankfort we may not be as windy as they are out on the Great Plains, Kansas, Oklahoma and places like that, but by George, we are not without wind.”
Claffy, a retired civilian engineer with the U.S. Department of the Army, said he was initially interested in the windmill idea, but it may not be possible right now.
“The worst presentation that the community could make to the rest of the folks in Frankfort and the legislators is a windmill that doesn’t get turned,” Claffy said. “And the data on the air currents in this area, and actually most of Kentucky, is that there’s not enough wind to power current technology wind turbines.”
Still, Coffey hopes his windmill proposal gets others thinking about sustainable energy, a topic with growing importance, he says, as fossil fuels and natural resources become scarcer. He says he’s also concerned about climate change and the effects of pollution on the Earth’s atmosphere.
And, he pointed out, he’s not alone. Coffey mentioned the Frankfort Climate Action Network as a group concerned with sustainable energy and the nation’s climate shifts.
“It concerns me that their group is so small,” he said. “Why isn’t every resident of Frankfort a member? We ought to all be doing it. Everybody ought to be interested. Everybody ought to be concerned.”
People get caught in their day-to-day lives, Coffey said, and don’t consider what will happen 50 years in the future.
“Our view, our perspective is so short,” he said. “Things can sneak up on you, and they’re there before you know it.”