The Lear Jet repo man

June 6, 2009

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Pretty wild story I came across today…
– FlashAddict

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Business has never been better for the fearless pilot who takes back millionaires’ expensive toys.

By Marc Weingarten

June 6, 2009 | It was snowing hard when the bank called Nick Popovich. They needed to grab a Gulfstream in South Carolina now. Not tomorrow. Tonight.

All commercial and private planes were grounded, but Nick Popovich wasn’t one to turn down a job. So he waited for the storm to clear long enough to charter a Hawker jet from Chicago into South Carolina. There was just one detail: No one had told Popovich about the heavily armed white supremacist militia that would be guarding the aircraft when he arrived.

But then again, no one had told the militia about Popovich, a brawny and intimidating man who has been jailed and shot at and has faced down more angry men than a prison warden. When Popovich and two of his colleagues arrived that evening at a South Carolina airfield, they were met by a bunch of nasty-looking thugs with cocked shotguns. “They had someone in the parking lot with binoculars,” Popovich says, recalling the incident. “When we went to grab the plane, one of them came out with his weapon drawn and tells us we better get out of there.” Undeterred, Popovich continued toward the plane until he felt a gun resting on his temple.

“You move another inch and I’ll blow your fucking head off,” the gravel-and-nicotine voice told Popovich.

“Well, you better go ahead and shoot, ’cause I’m grabbing that plane.”

A shot was discharged in the air.

The gravel-and-nicotine voice again. “I’m not kidding.”

“Then do it already.”

Popovich’s first rule of firearms is pretty simple: The man who tells you he’s going to shoot you will not shoot you. So without so much as looking back, he got on the plane and flew it right to Chicago. “My job is to grab that plane,” Popovich says. “And if you haven’t paid for it, then it’s mine. And I don’t like to lose.”

Nick Popovich is a repo man, but not the kind that spirits away Hyundais from suburban driveways. Popovich is a super repo man, one of a handful of specialists who get the call when a bank wants back its Gulfstream II jet from, say, a small army of neo-Nazi freaks.

For the past three decades, Popovich has been one of a secret tribe of big game hunters who specialize in stealing jets from the jungle hideouts of corrupt landowners in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and swiping go-fast boats from Wall Street titans in Miami and East Hampton. Super repos have been known to hire swat teams, hijack supertankers and fly off with eastern bloc military helicopters. For a cut of the overall value, they’ll repossess anything.

But Popovich is the most renowned of them all — the Ernest Hemingway of super repo men. “Nick is the best of the best,” says Doug Lipke, head of the bankruptcy group for the law firm Vedder Price, who has called Popovich on numerous occasions to retrieve jumbo jets from fat cats with thinning balance sheets. One time, Lipke needed a plane repo-ed from Michigan and flown to Chicago. “All the electrical went out on the plane and Nick was flying at night,” he says. “He flew that plane back with zero electricity — no lights, nothing. There aren’t many guys that would be able to do that.”

Today Popovich, 56, is co-partner of Sage-Popovich, a repossession firm. (Sage is his wife, Pat, also the firm’s president.) Their clients include Citibank, Transamerica and Credit Suisse, and the firm annually earns, Popovich says, “into the low-to-mid seven figures.” That estimate isn’t ridiculous when you consider that the most difficult jobs can net Popovich anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000. Popovich’s specialty is big planes, jumbo jets, mostly; he’s repo-ed 1,300 of them in his career. And that’s just the solo gigs. Throw in the 65 repo men who work for him, and the number reaches closer to 2,000.

His mandate is simple. Someone misses a few payments. The bank wants to recover its plane. There will be an attempt to set up some kind of debt payment plan. Failing that, collateral has to be ponied up. If there is none, then an account executive reaches out to Popovich. But Jumbo Jets are expensive — a 747 will run you anywhere from $125 million to $260 million — and people who try to acquire such toys are loath to give them back. If the deadbeat gets wind that the bank is sniffing around his plane, he’s likely to spirit it away before anyone has a chance to grab it, and then it becomes a cat-and-rat game that can take months to complete.

And times have never been better. When lenders opened the sluice gates of easy credit throughout the last decade, high rollers went out and splurged on Gulfstreams and yachts. When the job goes away, the bonuses dry up and the stock market tanks, it’s a long and nasty downward spiral that leads to Popovich’s door. “Oh, those guys are a real piece of work,” says Popovich of the fallen Masters of the Universe. “We’ve had to fly halfway around the world just to find a plane we were told would be in Dallas. You have to think like a crook to find them.”

These days, Popovich is fielding assignments as fast as he can handle them. “We’ve got a lot of business right now,” he says. “We recently recovered planes from Okun and Nadel.” Popovich is referring to Edward Okun and Arthur G. Nadel, two Bernie Madoff-manqués that have been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from unsuspecting clients who thought they were safely investing their money ($300 million in Nadel’s case, the largest alleged hedge fund fraud in Florida history). Among the booty that Popovich was hired to return were two Gulfstream IIs and a Lear Jet.

A good super repo man has a skill set that’s some mad hybrid of cat burglar, F.B.I. agent and con artist. And there’s real danger that comes with the job,  not just ticked-off homeowners wielding baseball bats. According to the American Recovery Association, there are, on average, one or two repo-related deaths a year.

In 2006, a Czechoslovakian-made Albatross L-39 combat jet lifted off from Sitka, Alaska, and crashed into a trailer park in the small community of Ketchikan, Alaska. The pilot was found dead 100 yards from the destruction, still strapped into his seat. He had no identification on him. His profession was listed as repo man. In Minnesota, a boat repo specialist named Kim Zarbinksi was repelled when the angry owner of a 40-foot yacht refused to give him his boat. So Zarbinksi resorted to sterner measures. He hired a SWAT team to help him grab the rotten booty.

You want stories? Popovich has volumes. And tells them without a note of bragging or conceit. On a recent warm afternoon, the unfailingly polite repo man and I are strolling through his cavernous warehouse in Gary, Ind. It feels like browsing a Costco run by the Pentagon. There are airplane parts as far as the eye can see — jet engines sit on shelves next to wheel casings and propellers. The detritus of a recent job sits in gigantic vats — hundreds of headphones in one, telephones in another.

Right now the warehouse is overflowing thanks to his most ambitious job to date: “stealing” a fleet of 240 corporate helicopters from a chain of flight schools for a tidy six-figure fee. Nevada-based Silver State was one of the country’s fastest growing companies, mainly because its owner Jerry Airola was constructing a pyramid scheme as tall as the Cheops. When everything collapsed, Popovich was hired to retrieve 240 copters from 51 locations around the country. In 24 hours, Nick and his 125-member crew had to change the locks at all 51 Silver Star schools, then move in 125 flatbeds to haul not only the copters but everything else they could carry — furniture, spare parts, computers, simulators.

“The copters were a mess,” says Popovich. “Some of them hadn’t been flown in months. Once we shipped them all back to the warehouse, we stripped the worst ones for parts for the bank. I figured that at least we were putting them to good use that way.”

Inside his 120-acre, ranch-style compound in rural Valparaiso, Ind., Popovich recalls some of his most notorious adventures in disarmingly soft-spoken and courtly tones. There was the time in the ’80s when he was thrown into a Haitian jail cell. Jail stints came with the job, but this time was different.

Inside the cell, Haitian cops had turned Popovich’s face inside out. The pain was ungodly. His shoes were gone. He was starving. And Popovich was sitting in a cage surrounded by 35 prisoners spitting epithets in his face. His only priority was to avoid getting hurt any worse than he already was. In his experience, that meant behaving like a total maniac, lashing out at the nearest prisoners and threatening to kill anyone that came near him.

The charge was the attempted theft of a 707 jumbo jet and he was facing 20 years to life. The jet in question belonged to a Caribbean tour company that went bust. After a few missed payments, the bank had called Popovich, who had tracked the plane from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The gig promised to be simple. Popovich even spotted the battered silver-and-blue jet on the tarmac as he taxied into Port Au Prince’s Toussaint L’Ouverture airport on a sweltering February afternoon. All he needed was an hour to check the avionics, an open runway and a flight plan. It hadn’t worked out that way.

By the third day of his imprisonment — sometime after the American embassy politely informed him that the bank employing him wouldn’t put up $100,000 in bail — details started to come back. The tracer fire pinging the plane’s wings like popcorn kernels. Men with bayonets slamming on the fuselage. A police cruiser skidding to a halt right in front of the jet, blocking the runway and preventing Nick from taking off. The cops beating him senseless and throwing him in Penitentier National prison. And now, here he was.

On the seventh day of his incarceration, Haitian President Baby Doc Duvalier was overthrown and the rioting masses swung open all of the cell doors. Bruised, bloody and sleepless, Popovich hobbled out of his cell. As he taxied down the runway for the second time. he couldn’t help thinking that what they said was true: Flying home is always the easy part.

Reared in Hammond, Ind. — just a few miles from his current Valparaiso home base — Popovich got his pilot license when he was 16 because his father thought it might be useful some day. It was the only time he ever said “yes” to Dad. He tried Indiana University for a semester but it didn’t take.

Then in 1975 he met two men named Toby Howard and Billy Day in Wichita while hanging with some mutual friends. A pair of hustlers, they had all kinds of ideas for how to get rich quick. Popovich followed them for six months, hawking faulty tire repair kits that would explode in winter and some multilevel marketing schemes. The contacts he’d make through Howard and Day led him into small-time arms dealing. Popovich bought out a Utah company that had been indicted for weapons violations and turned it into a thriving business. “We built .22 caliber weapons into briefcases with micro switches and laser sightings,” he says. He sold his guns to the Canadian Special Ops and maybe to a few places he shouldn’t have. He mentions something about being “in South America at the wrong time.” He also drops a hint about conducting business in Iraq.

Popovich became a Braniff pilot in 1976. But that was boring. So he quit. He wouldn’t find his true calling until 1979, when a banker friend asked for his help getting back a Cessna 310 from a small-time chartering business. “I flew down there, grabbed it and got paid for it. I didn’t think anything of it,” he says. “I dropped off the plane and the guy calls yelling his head off. He says, ‘You didn’t ask for enough money! Send me a new bill but multiply it by three!'”

A few days later, Popovich found $145,000 in his checking account. A super repo man had been born.

Sage-Popovich now has 65 super repos, ranging from former crop-dusters and commercial pilots to Marines and airport mechanics. One of Popovich’s aces, Ed Dearborn, flew for Air America, the CIA’s covert Vietnam-era airline, and even helped build landing strips in remote jungle outposts in Southeast Asia. A good year is five popped planes; Kevin Lacey, one of Popovich’s best men, grabs 10 when he’s on a roll.

Now that Popovich has worked with some of his guys for 20 years or more, he has learned to take good care of them. When Lacey was imprisoned while attempting to snatch a jet in Brazil a few years ago, Popovich made sure the local hotel shipped edible food to his cell until the legal mess could be cleared up. It was the least he could do, given the fact that Lacey had been dragged in humiliating fashion right through the passenger terminal in handcuffs. “The inmates in Brazilian jails have more guns than the police,” said Lacey. “It’s best to make friends with them quickly.”

Because Lacey is a master mechanic, he is an invaluable resource for lenders. If a plane is sitting on blocks, its windows cracked and its avionics blown out, Lacey can fix it and fly it out. He’s also pretended to be a mechanic on numerous occasions; it gets him inside the plane and up in the air a lot quicker. That plane in Brazil required the use of a “claw hammer and rusty pliers” for Lacey to fix it.

Like most super repo guys, Lacey works freelance and flies just about everything with two wings. He’s certified in eight types of aircraft. The Air Force would be lucky to have him, but the repo game is far more thrilling. And a lot more lucrative.

The money is pretty good, depending on the size of the plane and the complexity of the repo. But for Lacey, the job is its own reward, despite the fact that many pilots consider it an unseemly profession. “My tact and my diligence are my greatest weapons,” he says. “I have to think and react before someone else does, or I’m sunk. Often, they will be on the lookout for you, so you find yourself chasing something while someone else is chasing you.”

The super repo business is extremely time-sensitive; Popovich must calibrate his maneuvers with military precision or else the entire operation crumbles. The minute Popovich gets a call, he has his team prepare a “Repo Book,” which contains all of the relevant documentation necessary to take back a plane. An airport won’t let you fly off with a jumbo jet without all kinds of paperwork: lease terminations, powers of attorney, customs bonds and certificates of insurance. (There’s a reason Sage-Popovich has eight lawyers on retainer.) Within an hour of the initial contact, everything is accounted for, all the way down to the catering for the crew.

While the Repo Book is assembled, Popovich will get his scouts on the ground to figure out where the plane is. The company has people all over the globe who are more than happy to track down an item for him for a small fee. More often than not, the aircraft will turn up in a major airport or commercial hub, and from there it’s easy sailing: Show up, hand over the documentation, get in the cockpit and fly away. Popovich estimates that three-quarters of his jobs go off exactly that way.

The rest are stickier affairs — starring angry owners, armed security, even intransigent airport workers, who will be out tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fuel, landing fees and maintenance costs if a plane suddenly goes missing. In that case, half the game for Popovich is sneaking on to the aircraft and flying it out before anyone’s hip to what he’s doing. “That’s why you never, ever use the plane’s two-way radio,” says Popovich with a laugh. “People might get wind of your plans before you even have a chance to secure your seat belt. If you need to file a flight plan, you use your cell phone to call the tower.”

One time, he pretended to be a limo driver picking up a client. When airport security turned its back, Popovich slipped off his black overcoat and eight-point chauffeur cap and finagled his way onto the plane.

Aircraft on a runway is a lot easier to grab, but the walk to the cockpit is longer than the Bataan Death March. You might as well radio the tower before walking up to a vacant jet without permission, because you’re inevitably going to get busted. For a repo job in Miami, Popovich commandeered a catering truck from a friendly driver and the crew let him on board unbidden. On numerous occasions he has loaded his guys into a baggage cart, dropped the curtain and driven up to the cargo hold. From there, it’s a slinky stretch on hands and knees from the luggage compartment into the cockpit.

Really tough targets require sterner measures. In 1998, Popovich was hired to repo two jets in the possession of Francois Arpels, scion of the Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry empire. Arpels had leased two Boeing MD-81s for a charter service he started called Fairlines, but failed to make his payments.

“I landed in Paris and contacted Arpels to see if we could work something out,” says Popovich. “Arpels tells me, ‘I’m Francois Arpels and this is Paris. You will never find the planes.’ I looked him right in the eye and told him, ‘Frankie, they are all but gone. Trust me.’ He hated the fact that I called him Frankie. That really got under his skin.”

Using his European scouts, Popovich tracked one plane in Milan; the other was sitting on the tarmac near Terminal One at Charles DeGaulle Airport. The MD-81 was covered in official-looking documentation written in French, so Popovich just ripped everything off and hopped in. Big mistake. The airport cops stopped him as he was taxiing and threw him in a cell overnight. The next day, a French magistrate had handcuffs slapped on Popovich and ordered him returned to Chicago. “I was more determined than ever to grab those damn planes,” he says. “You push me, I push back harder.”

A few weeks later he snuck back into the country, convinced a captain with an Air Afrique fuel bus to fill up Arpel’s Boeing and flew it out. But the Milan plane was trickier. The engine was behaving erratically, and no sane person should fly a bird with a hinky engine. Popovich had a replacement engine in Munich (engine-swapping is a common occurrence in the business) and the only way to get it would be to make the 50 minute flight and pray.

As his pilot Ed Dearborn climbed to altitude, Popovich remembers sitting in the back, furtively stealing looks at that shaky equipment. “The whole time I sat there thinking, ‘If that engine lets go, I’m fucked.'” When they got to Germany and opened it up, the mechanics estimated that another couple of hours of airtime and the thing would have melted down. Along with Nick and his guys.

Popovich even met his wife on a repo. He was casing an exotic car company in Chicago when a leonine blond walked in to the dealership. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘A hundred bucks for the first guy that nails her,'” he says. “Twenty million dollars in business together later, here we are.” The couple’s two boys, Zachary, 18 and Max, 20, work for Sage-Popovich when they can. Zachary attends college and does repos in his spare time.

Popovich’s daredevil days are behind him for the most part; now he’s working with a new generation to do the job. He would like his two sons to go about it a little differently than he did. Maybe a bit more cautiously, for starters. He wants his son Zach to take over the business one day, but “he wants to open a bar in Sun Valley instead.” He has in mind an exit strategy, though he’s not sure when, if ever, he’ll implement it. Life is too good to stop now. Just pick up the paper — every day word breaks of another investor, another pyramid scheme, another crook who has a date with Popovich.

Tooling around Valparaiso in his Bentley, with Bob Dylan playing softly in the background, Popovich tries to put into words just how great it feels to pull off a big repo job. “It’s like a giant chess game, and the stakes can be your life,” he says. “It’s always a different challenge, a test of how smart you are. Can you outfox someone else? There’s always going to be some covert action involved. And you throw a big payoff in there, well, it’s just intoxicating.” He pauses. “Repossessing a giant, gleaming multimillion dollar plane is kind of like courting a beautiful woman. Sometimes the chase is better than the catch.” And the chase is never complete.

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/06/06/lear_jet_repo_man/

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Growing excitement, expectations for green jobs corps

March 2, 2009
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Seeing how much the previous article I posted about wind power drummed up quite a bit of responses, here is another article from CNN that I came across today for further reference about wind turbines and the green economy. Let me also state that while I admit many issues and stumbling blocks remain on how to best address the issues surrounding renewable energy, at least people are starting to take things seriously and actively trying to make a difference for a better tomorrow – on that, I trust that we can all agree upon.
– FlashAddict

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By John D. Sutter
CNN

(CNN) — When Rita Bryer sees 300-foot-tall wind turbines sprouting up from the prairie near her home in western Oklahoma, she can’t help but wonder about the view from the top, where blades the size of semi-trucks spin.

Schools are adding courses to prepare wind turbine mechanics and other green workers.

Schools are adding courses to prepare wind turbine mechanics and other green workers.

“Out here, you can see the wind turbines from 10 miles away,” she said. “Think about how far you’ll be able to see when you’re at the top.”

So, partly out of curiosity, partly because she wants to be part of something new, the 51-year-old is leaving behind a career of odd jobs and oil-field work.

She’s going back to school to become a wind turbine mechanic — one who’ll have to scale the turbines to make repairs.

Across the country, people like Bryer are looking to the renewable energy sector in hopes its “green-collar jobs” will offer them stability in this shaky economy. Some are signing up for community college or apprenticeship programs that train students to be wind turbine mechanics, solar panel installers, fuel-cell engineers or energy efficiency experts.

Video Watch how the green economy is growing in Pennsylvania »

Government support has rallied excitement for the prospect of a green jobs corps, as President Obama’s stimulus package puts about $20 billion into greening the economy, according to the White House.

Video Obama says country will double renewable energy in three years »

In his recent speech to Congress, Obama said the U.S. will double its supply of renewable energy in three years. To do so, he’s calling on a new class of workers to be trained in environmental fields. Green jobs training programs will get $500 million from the stimulus.

At a summit in Philadelphia on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden said people who make $20 per hour before a green jobs training program can make $50 per hour after. On average, the clean-energy jobs pay 10 to 20 percent more than similar work outside the field, he said.

Video Watch how to land green jobs »

Adding to the enthusiasm, Biden cited a recent case in Chicago where a maker of energy-efficient windows intends to gradually rehire 250 workers who were laid off when their window company closed late last year.

There is a “very direct” correlation between the stimulus package and Serious Materials’ ability to reopen the plant, said Sandra Vaughan, chief marketing officer for the California-based company.

But not all signs for green industries are so positive.

Wind and solar companies have cut staff and stalled new projects as the credit crisis has tied up money, meaning banks are less able to invest in renewable energy.

In the short term, that will make things difficult for the newly trained green work force, said Kathy Werle, dean of applied sciences and technology at San Jose City College, in California, which offers associate degrees in solar panel installation.

“Right now, money is so tight. People can’t borrow money to put solar on their homes,” she said.

Werle said she expects Obama’s stimulus plan to help jump-start the industry. Within a year or so she expects the graduates to be able to find plenty of green jobs.

The uncertainty appears not to be tempering student demand for green education, though. Earlier this semester, 260 people showed up for 44 seats in solar panel installation classes at San Jose City College, Werle said.

“Anything green is very popular,” she said.

Meanwhile, some schools that train the green-collar work force are billing their programs as near-guaranteed ways to find stable jobs.

Sidney Bolfing, chairman of the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium, an association of community colleges, said nearly 100 percent of his graduates find jobs in the fuel-cell industry — many before graduation.

“Typically all of these students all get jobs,” he said.

Bolfing is so confident in the idea that he markets green-collar careers to high schools and elementary schools in the area.

He hopes that the standard list of childhood dream jobs — astronaut, firefighter, police officer — soon will include things like wind technician and fuel-cell engineer.

Even if there’s trouble in the short term, green jobs are needed to fight climate change and spur economic growth, he said.

“We need to develop these new technologies like there’s no tomorrow,” he said.

Matt Raines, 31, of West, Texas, had a career as an auto mechanic. But that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so now he is enrolled as a community college’s hydrogen fuel program.

He said local people look at him funny when he tells them about the decision because they don’t understand what he’ll be doing.

“I had one lady who actually asked me if I was building hydrogen bombs. I was like, ‘No ma’am, it’s energy production, green energy,'” he said.

Raines finds the program exciting, and says he’s been contacted about jobs by three companies, even though he is yet to finish his two-year degree.

Maria Kingery, co-founder of Southern Energy Management, a North Carolina company that installs solar energy panels, said schools need to catch up with the changing industry.

She applauded money in the stimulus package that will go to green job training programs, but said “training is going to be a real challenge” in the coming months.

Her company has a hiring freeze in place at the moment because of the economic downturn, but expects to grow in 2009, she said.

Some green jobs are low-tech and require little or no specialized training.

A former construction worker could easily take up a career in home weatherization and energy efficiency, said Bob Logston, owner of Home Energy Loss Professionals (HELP) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Some weatherization steps are as simple as shoving newspaper insulation in a home’s attic, caulking windows and repairing ductwork.

More than $11 billion of the economic stimulus package is intended to help people make their homes more energy efficient, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Because of those efficiency provisions, Logston said he expects his business to quadruple.

He employs six people now and expects to hire at least 12 more, he said. He also plans to offer his employees insurance for the first time.

“Everything’s budding, so to speak, everything’s in bloom even though it’s winter,” he said of green jobs in the home weatherization business. “The energy costs are so high people can’t afford” not to increase efficiency.

Part of the trouble with estimating the profitability of green jobs is that no one seems to be able to agree on a definition for the term. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separate data on green jobs or jobs in renewable energy, and economists disagree on how many new green jobs the stimulus package will create.

In such a murky situation, community colleges often network with the local business community to gauge their interest in students from green-jobs programs. Many have banded together to dig up regional knowledge.

“The students always ask, ‘Can you guarantee job placement?’ No, I can’t guarantee it, but I can tell you I’ve spoken with local wind farm managers and everybody I’ve spoken with says there is a need, (and) there will be a need,” said Kimberlee Smithton, director of business and industry services at the High Plains Technology Center in Woodward, Oklahoma.

That school, where Bryer is taking classes, is offering a wind turbine technician program for the first time this year.

Bryer said she doesn’t know how much money she’ll make in the wind business. She doesn’t much care.

“To me, especially, it’s going to be a job — a good job I think I’ll like, and I just look forward to doing it,” she said. “It’s always nice doing something different, not the same old thing.”

The woman who’s always been seen as a rebel because she was the lone female working tough jobs in the oil fields now feels like she’s part of a movement for change

http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/03/02/green.jobs.training/index.html


Wind power helps ski resort during recession

February 27, 2009
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“Zephyr (nickname for the wind turbine) works its magic to produce about a third of Jiminy Peak’s electric needs, shaving $450,000 a year from the resort’s energy bill. To put that in perspective, the energy from the turbine is enough to power more than 600 homes.” – that is some serious savings there to say the least!!!
– FlashAddict

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By Ayesha Tejpar
CNN

HANCOCK, Massachusetts (CNN) — Imagine climbing 276 steps to change a light bulb. That’s all in a day’s work for Rian Harford.

The Zephyr wind turbine towers over Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

The Zephyr wind turbine towers over Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

He’s a mountain operations mechanic at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort. And that light bulb isn’t just a regular light bulb. It belongs inside an air-traffic warning light that sits 253 feet high upon a wind turbine.

Jiminy Peak, in Hancock, Massachusetts, touts itself as the first ski resort in North America to feature such a structure.

The idea to build the turbine came to company president and CEO Brian Fairbank after years of struggling with the astronomical cost of making snow.

“Somebody suggested we take advantage of the wind. You use the energy the most in the winter,” Fairbank said. “That’s when the wind blows the most.”

But such a simple concept wasn’t so easy to execute. It took more than three years to take the idea from conception to fruition.

Video Watch what it’s like on top of the giant turbine »

Before even placing an order for a turbine, the resort had to study everything from Federal Aviation Administration regulations to the structure’s effect on airplanes, birds and endangered species.

Once everything fell into place, Jiminy Peak was tasked to get 500 tons of parts and equipment up the mountain, via a two-mile-long gravel road.

“Once we got everything to the top of mountain, putting it together only took a couple days, but getting it up there was the biggest challenge,” Fairbank said.

In fall 2007, the $4 million project was complete. The turbine is nicknamed Zephyr, after the Greek god of the west wind. And Zephyr isn’t afraid to make its presence known.

The tower is more than 250 feet tall. The hub adds 10 feet, and the blades extend an additional 123 feet, creating a 386-foot green machine.

Zephyr works its magic to produce about a third of Jiminy Peak’s electric needs, shaving $450,000 a year from the resort’s energy bill. To put that in perspective, the energy from the turbine is enough to power more than 600 homes.

And Zephyr’s power doesn’t stop there. It has also drawn the interest of many visitors. Louise Pinho did her homework to find out how effective the wind turbine really is.

“When you read about what it’s able to do for the resort, that it can take up to 33 percent off of their bills, then you realize that there is more of a need for this,” Pinho said. “With what’s going on right now, we have to have some alternatives to our energy sources that we have available to us.”

But Pinho isn’t blind to Zephyr’s visual and environmental drawbacks. Studies show that wind turbines destroy the habitat that many animals live in. Bats, which play a large role in consuming insects and pests, are an example of a species that’s most affected.

According to Thomas Kunz, a biology professor at Boston University, these bats aren’t necessarily being struck by the blades of a wind turbine. Their bodies are affected by a low-pressure system caused when the blades move through the air.

“They die from hemorrhaging,” Kunz says. In areas close to wind turbines, “80 percent of the bats that we know about today are killed in that fashion.”

Kunz says that specifically, migrating bats seem to be more affected, mainly during their fall migration, which lasts from late summer to early autumn.

At Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the turbine produces electricity year round, but more than 60 percent of its output takes place in the winter months.

Regardless, Fairbank is no stranger to negative feedback. Some people in the community didn’t want the turbine to obstruct their view of the mountains.

But he says that only a small part of the community complains. In fact, some neighbors reap Zephyr’s benefit. In the summer, when the resort’s demands are lower, Zephyr’s electricity trickles downhill to power local homes and businesses.

“So all those communities become green when we’re not using the power,” Fairbank said.And when it comes to being green, this Massachusetts resort isn’t new to the game. Since 1985, the company has implemented various environmentally friendly practices. From recycling motor oil to heat lodges to installing waterless urinals, Fairbank says, the business is always looking for ways to conserve.

And that may be paying off. In a time when many businesses are closing their doors, Fairbank said, “we’re 12 percent ahead of our best year ever.”

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/02/27/ski.wind.turbine/index.html