October 25, 2010

NEW YORK: Family Farm Installs Wind Turbine with help from NYSERDA, overseas manufacturer, and local installer

It’s such a bucolic scene, the blades of the wind turbine moving slowly, almost hypnotically, over the rolling green hills dotted with fuzzy white sheep. Viewing such a pretty picture, one wouldn’t guess all that had to happen behind the scenes to get that turbine in place. Buckwheat Bridge Angoras is a small, family owned…

It’s such a bucolic scene, the blades of the wind turbine moving slowly, almost hypnotically, over the rolling green hills dotted with fuzzy white sheep. Viewing such a pretty picture, one wouldn’t guess all that had to happen behind the scenes to get that turbine in place.

Buckwheat Bridge Angoras is a small, family owned and operated farm in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State. “On our farm we raise fine wool sheep and Angora goats for wool and mohair.  We have our own spinning mill and turn the fiber from our animals into yarn for knitters and socks that we make with our old retired industrial knitting machines,” says owner Dr. Dan Melamed.

This family farm has long demonstrated a commitment to running on renewable energy.  Six years ago, they had 84 solar photovoltaic panels installed, which produce 10 kW of electricity. The panels were purchased in conjunction with a NYSERDA grant program.

For a couple of years, the solar panels produced a surplus.  As the numbers in the farm’s herd increased, and there was more fiber to be processed, the solar panels could not keep up with the power consumption of the mill. They even had to curtail production for a while. To address this problem, while keeping their commitment to sustainable and “green” production, the farm applied for a permit to install a residential scale windmill in 2006.

It would be four long years before Pyrus Energy installed an 11 kW Gaia turbine, set on a 100 foot SSV tower at the farm. While longer than normal, the story of the journey from application to installation illustrates many of the issues, both technical and political, that face small wind customers.

One asset they had going for them from the start, was a good site. “I was glad when we first arrived at his property to look it over, to find it was a great site,” said Court Rutherford, of Pyrus Energy, the installer.  “From past experience, I see so many areas that just will not show a good return on an investment, mainly due to bad equipment selection or not enough wind.  The siting is so important.”

The town’s permit process proved to be lengthy. Because of the geography of the farm, average wind speeds and terrain, they needed to have a higher tower than the 75 feet provided for in the town’s zoning ordinance, and higher than the 59 foot (18-meter) tower usually available with the Gaia turbine in Europe. Neighbors mounted an active campaign to try to block the installation of the turbine.  In July of 2008, two years after their initial application, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted Dr. Melamed a variance to build the tower at the necessary height. While it was difficult, he reports, “several of these neighbors now say that ‘It isn’t as bad as we thought‘ and that they can’t even hear it.”  Once the permit was issued, the 100 foot tower was designed and built locally.

Some of the delay was due to the fact that this was the first installation of a Gaia turbine in the U.S.  One problem that had to be overcome was that Gaia turbines, designed and built in Denmark, are intended to be connected to “three phase” AC power. “Gaia had to find a phase converter that would do the job, since we only had split phase available at the site from the utility company,” says Mr. Rutherford.  “The research must have taken Gaia-Wind months.”

They were fortunate to have an engaged and helpful manufacturer. The installer pointed with gratitude to all of the assistance that the Gaia-Wind gave on the design, logistics and actual installation.  Along the way, the company not only sent the Installation Manager from the UK, they also sent an electrical engineer, and one of the directors of the company to consult on the project.  When it was complete, this installation earned the designation of being the tallest Gaia turbine in the world.

Given these obstacles, why did the owner choose this model of wind turbine?  “I chose the Gaia 11kw wind mill because I felt that it was designed to work efficiently in areas where the wind resource was only average.  The Gaia has a very large swept area for the size of its generator, so it produces power even in low winds where other windmills wouldn’t,” says Dr. Melamed.

The owner of the farm applied for and received a NYSERDA incentive of $56,000, which covered about half of the total cost of the installation. While the original application to NYSERDA was filed in 2007, it was amended as the customer chose a different turbine (the Gaia was not originally on NYSERDA’s list) and dealt with an installer going out of business.  These changes caused the process to last much longer than the usual experience, says Mark Mayhew, of NYSERDA. “The fact that Dr. Melamed persevered through all this shows his dedication to renewable energy, and in the end it all worked out.” The final design was approved by NYSERDA in February 2010. NYSERDA’s Small Wind Incentive Program provides incentives for customer-sited wind turbines to eligible installers, who pass the savings on to their customers.  While the incentive level for this application was based on the size of wind generation system, the tower height, and the type of customer, in the new Wind Incentive Program, incentives are site-specific and based on the estimated production of the wind energy system.

When asked about the challenges with this project, Mr. Rutherford, the installer, responded,  “The biggest one was the time line from start to finish. From signing the contract, to getting the approvals, the incentives, the equipment… It just seems long for any customer to have to wait. I just kept my fingers crossed that the client would not change his mind when we had so much time invested behind the scenes.  NYSERDA was extremely helpful throughout this process.”

Obviously, Dr. Melamed is dedicated to running his farm on renewable energy and the wait paid off.  He says he enjoys the quality of his turbine’s manufacture, as well as its appearance.  “I like the sophistication of the design of the Gaia.  It uses a computer control system taken from much larger wind turbines to monitor and control things such as excessive vibration, cable twist, generator and rotor rpm, and power output.  The computer in the control panel is connected via cell phone to the internet, where its status is monitored by the manufacturer and I can monitor it online.” Mr. Rutherford also takes note of the results. “I have on my desktop live streaming data being reported from Dr. Melamed’s wind turbine over a cellular signal and I am impressed with the production at the 9-11 mph range. It is more than excellent.”   When the turbine is running, according to Dr. Melamed, it is so quiet that he can hardly hear it and what sound there is, ” is certainly not objectionable.”

In the end, it’s a beautiful scene, and a happy ending. Not every small wind customer will encounter all the problems, delays and challenges that dogged the installation at Buckwheat Bridge Angoras farm. But the tale illustrates many of the kinds of technical and political issues that customers face in today’s environment. We can only hope that trail-blazers like Dr. Melamed will make it a bit easier for all those who follow behind.