While staring up at the 135-foot-tall wind turbine that is spinning like clockwork, Lodi resident Bill Swearingen can't stop smiling as he describes how the turbine's blades are taking the ocean wind sweeping through the Montezuma Hills and turning it into energy.
Swearingen recently installed two wind turbines at E.B. Stone, a fertilizer company west of Rio Vista. While describing the project, large turbines stretch across the hills behind him, all moving even though it is a relatively slow wind day in the area.
"Wind in Rio Vista is one of those things that is a pretty safe bet," he said.
But when Swearingen started WPS Construction in late 2008, it was anything but a safe bet.
Unlike solar energy, which has become increasingly common, wind power still only produces a small amount of the country's energy. In 2004, only 1.5 percent of California's electricity was produced by wind turbines, according to the California Energy Commission.
He still decided to make the leap after the economy started to take a hit. Before that, he installed koi ponds.
"How many contractors went broke or reinvented themselves in the last five years? I chose to reinvent myself," he said.
When Swearingen looked at alternative energy, he felt there were many contractors in solar power, but wind turbines were a somewhat untapped market.
He spent two and a half years studying the industry, including training in Oklahoma and at University of California, Davis.
Part of the reason he studied so long before installing a turbine is because the projects are so large, and there are many laws and requirements for installation.
"You only get one shot. You don't want to go in and blow it, and put something up that doesn't work," he said.
Swearingen started pounding the pavement and talking to people about the benefits of the clean energy in 2008, but he did not receive any jobs for three years.
"My wife asked me, 'Why don't you do something easy?' Because it's not been easy," he said.
But he didn't give up, and in late 2010 he got three jobs all around the same time.
First, he installed a small turbine in Woodland. Right after that, E.B. Stone asked him to install a small turbine to serve as a trial run.
Then, E.B. Stone asked him to start on his biggest project yet. Over three months, he installed a 50-kilowatt-hour turbine built by the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company Endurance Wind Power.
He plans to use this model in other installations. The blades are 30 feet long, and from the top of the blades to the ground is 132.5 feet. When standing directly under it, there is just a light hum.
The new turbine started spinning in March. The goal is for the two turbines to eliminate the company's $40,000 annual electricity bill.
So far, the turbines are meeting that goal. Bill Crandall, who owns the plant, received his May bill, and it was only $11. For May 2010, they paid $5,400.
The first, smaller turbine cost about $104,000, and the other is $385,000. With a 30-percent federal rebate and a PG&E rebate, it will take about two years to pay back the debt, Swearingen said. The turbines are expected to keep spinning for about 25 years.
The fertilizer company is also using their green approach in energy to market their business. Sales have increased ever since the company trademarked Wind Powered Organics and added it to their bags, Brad Crandall Jr. said.
"There has been a huge movement to organic and sustainable fertilizer, so the idea of renewable power is attractive to our customer base," he said.
Swearingen has plans for other turbines at power sewage treatment plants, reclamation districts or wineries that tend to have huge water bills and are usually located outside of cities in more rural areas.
He also hopes to work with the Rio Vista School District to teach students about wind power and encourage them to consider it as a career possibility. Many of the people who construct and service the hundreds of turbines in the area come from Midwestern states.
"We can create local jobs because there are not a lot of local jobs," he said.
Some may look at the ladder on the turbine that stretches to the top of the turbine, and wonder why Swearingen would choose such a risky profession. He said it feeds his adrenaline addictions.
"I could set a solar panel on the ground or the roof, but that's not much of a thrill. A flaw in my psyche is I have to have something to make me feel alive," he said.
Throughout his life, Swearingen has never been afraid of a big project or a challenge. He spent eight years after college skiing in Mammoth, where he met his wife, Lenora.
For years, he would go to Alaska in July and commercial fish to make a supplemental income. There were four times during the trips that he was fearful for his life, including one time when they were in a 36-foot boat with 18- to 25-foot walls of water around them.
He also had a near-death experience on a fly-fishing trip in a rural area. An angry mother grizzly bear was feet away from him, and upset he was fishing in her fishing hole. His fishing buddy had a gun ready to shoot, but then the bear turned to check on her baby cubs, which were squealing.
"I'm glad I survived. When you get through those things, little stuff doesn't bother you," he said.
He grew up in the San Fernando Valley before moving to Reno. He then moved to Galt about 10 years ago because of a business opportunity, and then to Lodi five years ago.
Swearingen has a daughter who will be a junior at Tokay High School, and his son is entering Lodi Middle School.
His wife, Lenora, has gotten used to him taking risks and starting large projects.
"You know how people say 'thinking outside of the box'? She accuses me of not knowing there is a box," he said.
Ever since he started the business, he now looks at a light breeze across his face differently.
"Whether it is doing construction or fishing in Alaska, in every job I have had I have hated the wind. My attitude has completely changed. It's a great opportunity to celebrate the wind," he said.
For more information on Bill Swearingen and his company WPS Construction, go to www.wind-turbine-installation.com.