Across the United States and Canada, farmers are looking to advanced wind turbines that offer the best features of large megawatt units. They also are using windmills to eliminate the need for energy altogether when replacing the electric pond aeration systems used to support healthy fish and livestock. The result is wind-power farms, which are powering up farm profits and minimizing input costs.
“Whether for irrigation systems and grain dryers or equipment to raise hogs, cattle or turkeys, farmers use a lot of electricity,” says Don Van Houweling, general manager of The Van Wall Group, the Midwest’s largest John Deere dealer. “That’s why farmers are turning to wind energy: to achieve good return on investment, hedge against volatile energy costs, and ensure the future of farm and country. By harnessing a naturally renewable resource, we can limit rising input costs and our dependence on polluting, foreign fossil fuels.”
Van Houweling estimates an annual 12 percent to 15 percent return of income (ROI) for farmers who choose wind turbine technology and take advantage of current federal, state or local renewable energy incentives. Van Houweling’s dealerships also are using wind turbines.
At his Perry, Iowa, dealership, for instance, Van Houweling has installed an S-Series wind turbine by Endurance Wind Power capable of producing up to 20,000 kWh per year and a larger E-Series unit capable of producing more than 200,000 KWh per year. Combined, these turbines provide nearly 85 percent of the power consumed at this large facility.
Back to wind
Farms and windmills have a long history together, and today’s growing interest in renewable wind power is just the latest chapter.
“The first heyday of wind power in America lasted from 1870 to 1930, when thousands of farmers used the wind to pump water and generate power. The second heyday is just beginning,” states the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the leading science-based nonprofit organization working toward a healthy environment and a safer world.
According to the UCS, the reasons for wind power’s rebirth are many. Some of the best wind resources are on farmland; electric wind generators are more efficient and reliable than old water-pumping, fan-bladed windmills. The relative cost/convenience advantages of
renewable wind power over diesel generators and the extending power lines are great improvements. Other reasons are technology improvements, cost reductions, government incentives, and the ability “to plant crops and graze livestock right up to the base of the turbines.”
“For the first time, the technology is designed for commercial farms or businesses on the electric grid, not just remote off-grid sites,” Van Houweling says. “Unlike traditional windmills requiring a complex DC to AC power inverter prone to breakdown, grid-compatible technology like Endurance’s can provide up to 30 percent more power and greater reliability.”
Grid-compatible wind power generation allows “net metering,” which “enables farmers to get the most out of their wind turbines,” according to the UCS.
With net metering, “when a turbine produces more power than the farm needs at that moment, the extra power flows back into the electricity system for others to use, turning the electric meter backwards,” states the UCS. “When the turbine produces less than the farm is using, the meter spins forward, as it normally does. At the end of the month or year, the farmer pays for the net consumption or the electric company pays for the net production. Net metering rules and laws are in place in most states.”
When a tornado flattened most of Greensburg, Kansas, and destroyed Mike Estes’ family-owned John Deere dealership there, wind power got his BTI-Greensburg dealership back on its feet again.
“The first thing to go up after the tornado was an S-Series Endurance wind turbine that powered the construction of our new building,” Estes says.
The renewable power provided by the wind turbine, along with other measures taken, helped the new BTI-Greensburg facility become the world’s first LEED Platinum John Deere facility. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest certification for sustainable design.
Inspired by the performance of the Endurance S-Series turbine that can produce more than 20,000 kWh per year in certain wind conditions, Estes and his family started a new business, BTI Wind Energy, which has become the North American distributor for Endurance.
“We turned to the state-of-the-art wind turbines because they offer the best features of large megawatt units brought down to the individual farm and dealer level,” Estes says.
With the Endurance turbines, for instance, grid-compatible power and large rotor diameters that capture more wind
enable up to 70 percent slower rotor speeds with similar or greater output than traditional units. Just as a healthy, slow-beating heart will outlast a chronically fast-beating one, this means less wear and tear, quieter operation, and a service life of more than 30 years.
Estes points out a number of features that will help farmers get the most out of the next generation of technology.
“Unlike traditional wind turbines with the controls and generator high above ground, these are designed for easy maintenance with the controls and electronics at ground level,” Estes says. “For safety and productivity, these have a high-wind sensor and dual disc brakes that automatically stop and release the rotors when appropriate; and for those who want total peace of mind, as an option, dealers can remotely monitor and control the turbine operation via a wireless interface.”
Roger Stotts of Morning Star Farms near Greensburg is working with BTI Wind Energy to implement a 50-kW wind turbine capable of producing more than 200,000 kWh per year to power electric irrigation pivots and a grain elevator. He’s also implementing two S-Series wind turbines, which, at his location, can each produce approximately 16,000 kWh per year to power a shop and an office.
“On the farm, energy is one of our biggest expenses, so we want to manage that,” Stotts says. “We’re incorporating as much renewable energy as we can, and government incentives will certainly help.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program website, for instance, “As of March 2009, the federal government offers an investment tax credit for the purchase and installation of qualifying small wind electric systems, worth 30 percent of the value of the system.”