December 24, 2009

KANSAS: Powering Up Farm Profits

Farms and windmills have a long history together, and today’s growing interest in renewable wind power is just the latest chapter. Across the US and Canada, farmers are turning to the new generation of wind turbines to improve their Return on Investment, hedge against volatile energy costs, and improve the health of fish and livestock…

Farms and windmills have a long history together, and today’s growing interest in renewable wind power is just the latest chapter. Across the US and Canada, farmers are turning to the new generation of wind turbines to improve their Return on Investment, hedge against volatile energy costs, and improve the health of fish and livestock in their ponds. The result is powering up farm profits and minimizing costs.

“Whether for irrigation systems and grain dryers or equipment to raise hogs, cattle, or turkey, 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 and dealers are turning to wind energy: to achieve good ROI, hedge against volatile energy costs, and ensure the future of farm and country,” says Van Houweling.  “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% ROI for Midwest farmers and John Deere dealers who choose state-of-the-art wind turbine technology and take advantage of current federal, state, or local renewable energy incentives.  He both uses wind turbines and is a dealer of them.

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, about 20% of the site’s needed power; and a larger unit capable of producing over 200,000 kWh per year is scheduled to produce about 85% of the power needed at his upcoming west Des Moines, Iowa site.

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,” says Estes, co-owner of BTI, a fourth-generation John Deere dealer with four Kansas locations.

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 over 20,000 KWH per/yr 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,” says Estes.

With the Endurance turbines, for instance, grid-compatible power and large rotor diameters that capture more wind enable up to 60 to 70% 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.

“As a John Deere dealer already out on the farm, it makes sense for us to offer and support the wind turbines,” says Estes.  “For generations, farmers have trusted us to get the most out of their equipment.  We’ll do the same for the wind turbines.”

Roger Stotts of Morning Star Farms near Greensburg, Kansas 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 S-Series 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,” says Stotts.  “We’re incorporating as much renewable energy as we can, and government incentives will certainly help.”

Estes’ BTI-Greensburg dealership is further reducing its electrical use with wind-powered aeration of a water run-off pond to be used for fish and landscape irrigation, instead of using expensive electric aeration.  This will keep the water cleaner, clearer, and help to control algae and weed growth, thus preventing irrigation pump clogging without the use of expensive, toxic chemicals.

“After researching the market, we chose a Koenders Windmill Aeration system and had it powder coated in John Deere colors,” says Estes.  “We noticed they’d been servicing customers for 21 years with over 50,000 windmill aeration systems installed in North America.  It’s another way for farmers and dealers to reduce energy costs.”

Fast ROI
Renewable wind power aeration is also reviving rural pond water quality for livestock, eliminating the high cost of water hauling or electric aeration.

“Our windmill pond aerator paid us back in ten days and is saving us $30,000 a year by avoiding water hauling and energy costs,” says Jim Barrett, owner of the Barrett Ranch in Venus, Florida.  “We could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to our bottom line by keeping our herds healthy and preventing catastrophic loss with good water.  We’re expanding now.”

Before using windmill pond aeration, the Barrett Ranch couldn’t expand due to a lack of clean, affordable water for its cattle and registered goats on 88 acres.  Water was plentiful but undrinkable in 12 stagnant, algae-filled ponds.

Generations ago, pond aeration would not have been needed to clean up stagnant water – the wind and rain did the job, stirring up the water enough to keep it oxygenated.  In the last 20 years, however, pollutants and fertilizer run-off, combined with an increasing lack of rainfall, has caused many ponds and dugouts to stagnate.  Medical costs for livestock that drink from algae filled ponds can be thousands of dollars.  The costs of maintenance and filters for irrigation pumps can also be thousands of dollars per year.

Farmers like Barrett are saving their ponds and dugouts with bottom up-water aeration, which gives the water the strength to burn off the excess chemicals and pollutants that cause algae, weed growth and stagnation.  The water becomes much clearer and cleaner when air, diffused into tiny bubbles and transported by tube, is continuously pumped to the bottom of a pond or dugout.

In this effort, windmill aerators, such as those innovated by Koenders Windmills over 20 years ago, are gaining in popularity over electrical ones for a number of reasons.  Powered by wind as light as 3 to 5 mph, windmill aerators were originally developed for farm pond use when running electricity out to ponds was found to be too expensive.  Wind costs nothing.  It can save farmers and ranchers thousands per year in energy, maintenance and filter costs.  It can save thousands more per year in preventing livestock and farm animal loss or sickness.

Another reason for the popularity of windmill aerators is how long they last. While windmills from companies like Koenders Windmills and Superior Windmill have only three moving parts and will last decades, electrical aeration devices have motors and generally die out in a few years after constant use.  Environmentally friendly windmills also eliminate the need for costly electric power or oil-based fuels.

After investigation, Barrett chose a windmill aerator by Koenders Windmills to clean up his first pond.  The proven design and ability to operate in low winds, yet also withstand extreme weather conditions, was an important consideration.

“Within 30 days, the water was clean enough to put catfish in,” says Barrett.  “Not long after that we had the water tested, and it was fine for our animals.  Now it’s crystal clear and I could drink it.”

Source:  Del William, a technical writer based in Torrance, California.