|Center for Leadership in |
Environmental Education (CLEEn)
Of course, sustainability and stewardship of the land are cornerstones of farming so it is no wonder that farmers are interested. The sweetener is that wind power can save them money with an investment that will pay off in a relatively short period of time. Farmers are very financially savvy – they have to be – so they are open to new ideas and new technologies.
ATech is part of the Atlantic Tractor company so farmers are long-time customers anyway and the meeting was replete with easy-going familiarity and common interests.
ATech is in the midst of an installation of a wind turbine at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, just a few miles from where the presentation was given, in Cambridge. The concrete foundation is currently in its month-long curing process and the turbine should be functional by late September, saving the college money on its utility bill and acting as a focal point for the College’s Center for Leadership in Environmental Education (CLEEn).
The turbine will be a stunning addition to the landscape, visible by Eastern Shore locals and thousands on the way to the ocean on busy Route 50.
The ATech presentation focused on “small wind” vs. utility-sized turbines. Small wind turbines are typically 37 meters (approx. 121 feet) high, rather than the 110 meters (approx. 362 feet) high turbines typically seen at the top of ridgelines out West. Small wind turbines are referred to as “distributed wind,” that is, producing electricity that is generated and used on-site, “behind the meter,” offsetting the retail cost off electricity. By contrast “big wind,” projects, such as off-shore turbines, produce electricity that must be transmitted, typically by utility lines, for use on the grid elsewhere.
The presentation answered many questions on the mind of anyone new to the concept of wind power.
For example, how much wind is needed and what if it doesn’t blow all the time? ATech Wind Specialist Gary Sorrelle explained that the company uses scientifically produced wind maps along with ground-truth methods to determine where the turbine would be sited. And not that much wind is needed for these units to generate power. At a height of 10 meters, away from trees, buildings and other obstructions that produce turbulence, even wind at 5 and 10 mph can be put to work. Of course, more is better. The math behind it indicates that a doubling of wind speed results in eight times the power produced. So, each little bit of breeze helps.
What about noise? Will there be a thump-thump sound that will bother people and animals? The answer is that even as close as 66 feet from the base, the sound is no louder than a home air conditioner or ambient noise at a crowded restaurant.
What about maintenance? The expected life of a small wind machine is 25 to 30 years if yearly maintenance is done conscientiously. Think of it as you would your car. You have to take care of it to keep it running.
Andrew Gohn, Clean Energy Program Manager of the Maryland Energy Administration discussed net-metering legislation, which is county-by-county in Maryland. That is the legislation that allows private entities such as farms to sell back excess energy produced to the utility. The formulas are too complex and county-specific to go into here, but the presentation showed that money can be made from this process.
State and federal incentives were discussed as well. In Maryland in particular, the incentives are very favorable. Some of the biggest federal incentives, however, are about to expire so farmers would be wise to get projects started before the end of the calendar year to take full advantage of what’s available. The estimated payback period for a typical wind turbine installation, with all available incentives in place today, could be as little at four to six years.
The point of the story is that farmers are seeing that Now is the Time to invest in renewable energy. It just makes sense, from an environmental stewardship point of view and a financial point of view. And frankly, it makes a lot more sense than giving up acres of land to the installation of a Marcellus shale fracking operation. And wind will blow forever… long after the gas in the shale has run out. Plus, a wind turbine will not poison your drinking water. Now, there’s something to think about.
By Elvia Thompson
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