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'Crazy' like the wind

1About two years ago, Brantley launched West Wind Energy, a small-scale wind turbine remanufacturing business.

And about two months ago, the company relocated from Great Bend to a larger facility at 405 N. Main in Otis, where it will have plenty of room to grow.

"Rush County has opened their arms to us, so it's been fantastic," Brantley said.

The plant manufactures hobbyist size wind turbines, ranging from 1 kilowatt to 200 kilowatt generators. The machines are used to offset energy bills for homes, businesses and even communities, Brantley said, noting the company is working to establish the state's first community wind project in Jetmore.

So far, the primary focus of the company has been refurbishing wind turbines that have been in use for more than a decade. When the machines are decommissioned in favor of larger generators, the company takes them in, fixes them and ships them off for use in another project.

Currently, there is a large market nationwide for 200-kilowatt generators -- a model no other company is producing, Brantley said. The blades, in particular, for that size of turbine are a much-needed commodity, especially in California, he said.

As a result, the company soon will expand to include blade manufacturing. The new facility includes space to house the additional business, and Brantley hopes to add up to 20 additional employees to the current workforce of nine.

Needless to say, the additional job opportunities are much appreciated in the small town of Otis, and all of Rush County, said Bradley Penka, the county economic director.

"It's been a benefit to the community. He's already brought new jobs into town, and he's planning on expanding," Penka said. "Just having the wind energy and the environmentally friendly kind of business is even more beneficial."

The business also filled a building that had been unoccupied for about two years, following the move of Ochs Inc., a John Deere dealership.

Brantley hopes the company one day also could manufacture its own nacelles, which are structures housing the generator and other mechanics.

For now, necessary parts are shipped in from across Kansas, including manufacturers in Ellsworth and Wichita, Brantley said.

"We're trying to make a Kansas-built windmill. That's my whole concept," he said. "Why not build it in Kansas? We have the infrastructure. We have the manufacturing facilities in the state of Kansas. Why not build it here?"

The company has about half a dozen turbines operating within the state and expects that number to triple in 2009. The company also sells backup generators.

Brantley, who also is a part-time chiropractor in Great Bend, began exploring wind energy to offset an "extremely high" electric bill, he said. He found wind energy to be a more viable solution than solar panels and purchased a windmill online.

To his chagrin, he later discovered the generator was defective and had a difficult time securing the assistance and parts he needed to make it right, he said.

"My thought was, no one else out there is doing this," Brantley said. "I might as well help other people out by doing this."

During the past two years, Brantley said, he's seen an increase in business. And despite talk of an economic recession, he doesn't expect wind energy development to slow down any time soon.

"Even with the economy where it's at, people are still calling," he said. "Because with an investment in a turbine, you're going to get a 15, 20 percent return on your investment, and you can't do that anywhere else right now."

In fact, with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' renewable energy goals and tax incentives for green energy, wind energy could become a booming business statewide, he said.

When the business first launched, many were skeptical that wind turbine production would prove to be a profitable industry, Brantley said, noting he's seen a change in public perception in recent years.

"Three years ago, they called me Don Quixote, the crazy man and his wind turbine," he said with a laugh. "Now they're telling me I'm in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing."