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Powering up farm profits

By Staff | Apr 2, 2010

When Mike Estes’ rebuilt his John Deere dealership in Greensburg, Kan., after a May 2007 F5 tornado destroyed the former site, he added wind power to his overall operation. The small turbine can be seen on the left.

Across the U.S. and Canada, farmers and agribusinesses are studying if advanced small-scale wind turbines can work in their operations, offering the best features of large megawatt units.

Producers have employed windmills to operate an electric pond aeration systems used to support healthy fish and livestock, eliminating that power demand off the grid.

The results are powering up farm profits and minimizing input costs.

“Whether for irrigation systems and grain dryers or equipment to raise hogs, cattle, or turkey, farmers use a lot of electricity,” said Don Van Houweling, general manager of The Van Wall Group, the Midwest’s largest John Deere dealer with locations throughout Central Iowa and the greater Kansas City area.

“That’s why farmers and dealers are turning to wind energy to achieve good return on investment, hedge against volatile energy costs and ensure the future of farm and country,” Van Houweling said. “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 to 15 percent ROI for Midwest farmers and John Deere dealers who choose state-of-the-art wind turbine technology and take advantage of current federal, state and local renewable energy incentives.

At his Perry dealership, for instance, Van Houweling has installed an S-Series wind turbine by Endurance Wind Power capable of producing up to 20,000 kilowatts per hour per year, about 20 percent of the site’s needed power.

Another unit capable of producing over 200,000 kWh per year is scheduled to produce about 85 percent of the power needed at his West Des Moines.

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.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 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, a statement by the Union said. It states its mission as leading science-based nonprofit work for a healthy environment and a safer world.

According to the UCS, the reasons for wind power’s rebirth are many including:

  • Some of the best wind resources on farmland.
  • Electric wind generators are more efficient and reliable than old water-pumping fan-bladed windmills.
  • The relative cost/convenience advantage of renewable wind power over diesel generators and extending power lines.
  • Technology improvements, cost reductions, government incentives, plus the ability to plant crops and graze livestock right up to the base of the turbines.

Van Houweling said his company entered the wind market because “for the first time, the technology is designed for commercial farms or businesses on the electric grid, not just remote off-grid sites.

“Unlike traditional windmills requiring a complex DC to AC power inverter that is prone to breakdown, grid-compatible technology 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.

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.”

Going green

When a tornado destroyed Mike Estes’ family-owned John Deere dealership in Greensburg, Kansas as well as most of the town, 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,” said Estes, co-owner of BTI, a fourth-generation John Deere dealer with four Kansas locations.

Inspired by the performance of the wind turbine that can produce over 20,000 KWH per year in certain wind conditions, Estes and his family started a new business, BTI Wind Energy.

“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 said.

The grid-compatible power and large rotor diameters that capture more wind enable the turbine to generate up to 60 to 70 percent slower rotor speeds with similar or greater output than traditional units.

“Like a healthy slow-beating heart will outlast a chronically fast-beating one, this means less wear and tear, quieter operation, plus a service life of over 30 years,” Estes described.

Roger Stotts, of Morning Star Farms near Greensburg, Kan., is working with BTI Wind Energy to implement a 50-kW wind turbine capable of producing over 200,000 kWh per year to power electric irrigation pivots and a grain elevator.

He’s also implementing two wind turbines, which, at his location, can each produce approximately 16,000 kWh per year to power a shop and office.

“On the farm, energy is one of our biggest expenses, so we want to manage that,” said Stotts. “We’re incorporating as much renewable energy as we can, and government incentives will certainly help.”

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