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Calendar publisher wants to power his factory with wind

February 12, 2007

Usually, the big wheels turning at The Time Factory are those of presses cranking out calendars of everything from Marilyn Monroe to NASCAR's Tony Stewart.

But there are also wheels turning inside the head of founder and CEO Jim Purcell, who imagines a 44-foot-diameter propeller spinning high in the air above his factory near 62nd Street and Georgetown Road.

Up through the clouds it'll hum like a bubbling Evinrude. Wind, that is. Invisible gold--an Indiana wind turbine.

Oh, boy, would the Beverly Hillbillies love this.

"Some people say I'm crazy," Purcell said of his plan to erect a 150-foot-tall wind turbine.

Then again, the Duke University MBA graduate might be crazy like a fox; he figures the $200,000 contraption could power 60 percent--if he's lucky, maybe 80 percent--of his 22,000-square-foot facility at 6355 Morenci Trail.

Purcell said he also wants to be more environmentally responsible. No coal will be harmed in the making of his electricity. No sulfur or carbon dioxide will be released into the air. And the father of three children ranging in age from 6 to 10 wants to set a good example.

"We're just trying to do the right thing as a company. It's more expensive [initially], no question about it."

The turbine that Purcell reckons could take 15 years to break even, cost-wise, would be the first to generate electricity in Marion County. At least, that's as far back as anyone can remember. Sure, the county's early settlers had windmills like spring has dandelions, but they tended to drive pumps for water and such.

Wind turbines aren't unprecedented in Indiana. Companies no less than Duke Energy, after all, are looking at putting turbines in places like windy Benton County northwest of Lafayette.

But this is a relatively tranquil urban office park, where Purcell's wind turbine could be a pioneering example for other companies to embrace alternative energy generation.

Or, it could be a highly visible testament to another good-intentioned but impractical way to forge harmony between industry and Mother Nature.

Bravo, says green crowd

"Particularly on the commercial end--that's really promising," said Grant Smith, head of utility issues at Citizens Action Coalition. "This type of thing we should be attracting. It's high-tech stuff."

Brian Wright, coal policy director at Hoosier Environmental Council, predicts that more companies will be coming on board with clean energy investments, although few this radical. Rather, he sees growth in the installation of energy-efficient lighting, geothermal systems and distributed power generation, in which a firm generates its own electricity with an engine burning cleaner fuels such as natural gas, and captures engine heat for heating and cooling the building.

"The price has come down on a lot of these things that it makes good financial sense," Wright said. "You'd almost be burning money not to consider some of these."

Purcell, on the other hand, is clearly more out on a limb.

For one, he needs a zoning variance. He filed a petition with the Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals Jan. 8. Purcell doesn't figure it should be any big deal, given the sea of wireless phone towers dotting the landscape. His tower would be shorter than some of those structures.

"When you think of all the cell towers, would a wind tower be any worse?" said CAC's Smith.

Purcell considers it essential to land a federal grant, though. He credits Sen. Richard Lugar's office for pointing out a grant that could shave $50,000 off the estimated $160,000 to $200,000 wind turbine.

Purcell said Indianapolis Power & Light also has been helpful about how to sell excess power generated by the turbine to the utility--mostly likely on weekends.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of wind data out there. Purcell said some experts have told him there should be enough wind at the 14-story height of the three rotor blades to keep them humming.

Wind proponents say Indiana's ideal wind turbine areas are in northern Indiana, but that a zone stretching south to Indianapolis shows some promise.

By some estimates, Indiana has a potential 40,000 megawatts of wind power, assuming turbines are placed at a height of about 230 feet, Smith said.

If all goes well, "our plan is to start digging in December," Purcell said.

Incentives needed

Smith said the state ought to be doing more to provide incentives for alternative energy sources, "promoting this stuff through public policy."

Instead, much of the legislation being written is on behalf of coal companies and electric utilities that propose cleaner coal-gasification plants that cost hundreds of millions of dollars--supported by labor unions hungry to build them.

By contrast, clean-energy non-coal alternatives, Smith argued, are a potential economic development bonanza in the form of manufacturing and research and development. Note, for example, work done by Purdue University and IUPUI to develop fuel cells for the military and even trash-burning electric generators.

While Purcell's current electricity provider, IPL, boasts it has some of the cheapest electric rates in the country, rates will rise as coal-burning utilities install scrubbers for ever-more-stringent pollution rules.

The Time Factory is in an electric-intensive business, publishing calendars, posters and stationery products. The 15-employee firm won Ford Motor Co.'s licensee of the year award in 2003 and says it is one of the largest suppliers of stationery products for NASCAR.

Its products are distributed through such retailers as Borders, Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart.

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