New life for old windmills

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An old windmill on the Atlantic coast of northern France has been converted from milling grain to generating electricity. Owner Michel Mortier's original intention was to produce electricity for his own needs, but in the end he pioneered a fully automated, computer-controlled 18 kW wind turbine producing enough power to sell to the grid.

With conventional wind turbines in France meeting often vociferous opposition, Mortier's prototype has attracted a good deal of attention. French utility EDF, energy agency ADEME and the regional and local authorities between them met one-third of the EUR 200,000 total cost. They are now planning to convert at least 100 old windmills -- at least one in every département and region in France -- as an example of what is possible. Mortier, who is setting up a company to develop the business, has received enquiries from mill owners throughout Europe. Depending on what subsidies are available, he says the pay back period is about 15 years.

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