GALVESTON, Texas — Since early July, people have been stopping their cars at the corner of Stewart Road and Beall Lane on the West End. Sometimes, they get out, point and stare. Sometimes, they take photos.
The spectacle that so many come to see is four windmills — including one that’s 90 feet tall — their blades turning high above a pasture where quarter horses graze.
Although windmills and alternative energy are nothing new, the cluster of windmills in otherwise bucolic scene inspires second looks.
The curious stop by daily, said Michelle Beall of A&H Electric, the company that installed the windmills.
"It’s like something from another planet," Beall said.
A&H Electric, founded in 1929 and run by third-generation Beall family members, hopes the interest translates into future sales for the company, but also the greening of this planet.
The different brands and sizes of windmills are part of a yearlong initiative — almost an experiment — by A&H Electric to test various alternative energy products, including solar panels.
The company’s goal is to wade through the hype and the dizzying array of products in order to find the best wind turbines, other alterative power sources and energy-efficient products out there, said Henry Beall III and his brother, Shane. If the company dislikes the performance of the products, it won’t sell them. Simple as that, the Bealls said.
The Bealls said they’ve learned it’s a buyer-beware world when it comes to alternative energy products. They sat through slick presentations about a rooftop turbine that was supposed to power a house, only to find it barely could power a microwave oven.
What they’re looking for are products that really work, they said.
The windmills and solar panels on the roof of a warehouse at A&H Electric help to power three houses and the A&H office on 22 acres.
Henry, his wife, Stephanie, and two children, ages 14 and 13, and Shane and his wife, Michelle, and three children ages from 10 to 14, live in two houses on what they jokingly refer to as the "Beall Compound."
April Beall, president of A&H Electric, lives in another. The brothers are pushing for their sister, Kitty Kelso, and her husband to also build a house on the estate.
Three small windmills producing from 2.2 kilowatts to 5.5 kilowatts are made to power houses. Each windmill feeds one house.
The 90-foot commercial windmill, made to power larger buildings, is the most recent addition to the lineup. It arrived earlier this month and produces 20 kilowatts. It and some 5 kilowatt solar panels on the roof of A&H’s warehouse are part of a commercial-size hybrid system, combining wind power and solar through the same controller.
Vendor Earth-Tech Energy Systems said it was the first to market the hybrid technology for on-grid systems, which essentially are capable of selling electricity back to the utility company.
And the system at A&H Electric was the first commercial-size hybrid that Earth-Tech Energy Systems has installed.
The combined power from solar and the commercial windmill is then split out through separate inverters to four different sites — the three houses and the business.
If the system produces more power than the houses and office can use, the excess power is "sold" back to the power company for an energy credit. But such systems are so new and so rare, at least in these parts, that A&H Electric still is working out the logistics with its electric provider, the Bealls said.
The four inverters monitor the power needs of each house and the A&H office. Power is supplied based on demand instead of being divided equally among the four buildings, the Bealls said.
The system is backed by four large batteries. If a storm knocked out power, the system automatically would switch to the battery system.
The Bealls, who declined to disclose their investment in the technology, are monitoring the performance of each windmill and the solar panels on computers.
Although the windmills were installed during the Fourth of July weekend, they weren’t connected to the grid immediately. They haven’t been working long enough to get a power bill that reflects their performance, the Bealls said.
Among the Beall windmill display is the V200 Power Ball, with curved, egg beater rotor blades. It’s the first of its kind to be installed on the Gulf Coast, the Bealls said. Its output per month in 15 mph to 25 mph average winds are 115 kilowatt hours to 497 kilowatt hours.
A kilowatt hour is the amount of power consumed or generated in one hour.
The windmills will perform differently each month. August is the worst month, when it comes to wind. Still, the windmills have generated decent power this month, the Bealls said.
The Bealls also are monitoring the customer service of vendors, which are responsible for warranties. Bad customer service would prompt A&H Electric to not carry a product, the Bealls said.
The Bealls’ commitment to earth-friendly products — as company owners and as consumers and parents — extends to almost every aspect of their lives. Some of the personal cars, including their GMC Yukon SUV are hybrids, and their work trucks are powered by diesel engines, which generally are more fuel efficient than gas engines.
They’ve even retrofitted their houses with energy-efficient LED lighting systems, which are expensive upfront but have slashed their power bills, they said.
Alternative energy is the wave of the future and fits largely into their business plans and lifestyles, the Bealls said.
Whether wind turbines take off in Galveston and other parts of the county will depend on city ordinances and whether neighborhoods will attempt to block the rise of towers and turbines. The Bealls also will test performance of windmills at different heights.
One place wind turbines are catching on is at Texas ranches, particularly in the Hill Country, Henry Beall said.
Ever since the towers went up this summer, interest from ranchers and even second homebuyers on the island has been strong, they said.
The Bealls, who some day hope to go completely "off the grid," said they’ll know in about a year which products to sell and which to avoid.
"We want to be able to stand by the products we sell," Shane Beall said. "It’s about trust."
This story was brought to you thanks to khou.com’s partnership with The Galveston County Daily News.