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In Britain, wind turbines offer homespun electricity

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Amid the rooftops and chimneys of this seaside town south of London spins a solitary symbol of Britain's growing devotion to green energy. Usually relegated to windy plains or planted offshore, a wind turbine has sprouted on the roof of Daren Howarth's terrace house.

While it is Brighton's first, miniature windmills have suddenly become the latest "must have" accessory among Britain's eco-conscious city dwellers.

Yet even as Mr. Howarth's wind turbine has begun to generate modest levels of energy, debate swirls across the country over whether these small turbines are nothing more than a fashionable folly. Not all homes are structurally sound enough to support them. And some question whether the power these turbines generate will offset installation costs. Wind speed and direction vary widely in urban settings where buildings and other landmarks pose interference.

But more homeowners like Howarth seem willing to test the turbines even while regulations and improved designs are being hammered out.

"The key thing with these technologies is to start using [them] and start generating power yourself," says Howarth, who is still getting used to the rising and falling whine of the blades above his bedroom window. "It is making me extremely aware of what I'm using in the house ... and how hard it is to generate a little bit of power."

Standing inside the door to his roof deck, Howarth points to a black box on the wall that shows the number of kilowatts the steadily churning turbine is producing at that moment: about 0.8 kilowatts, enough to power a small hair dryer. Howarth has had his wind turbine operating for less than a month, but even without a substantial savings in his monthly energy bill, he's already convinced that it is a worthwhile investment.


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