Homespun Energy

December 8, 2010 07:47 AM
Homespun Energy

By Del Deterling

Charlie Hammer and his wife, Nancy Kavazanjian, found a good way to beat high energy costs. The Beaver Dam, Wis., couple purchased a small wind turbine with hopes of offsetting 75% of their farm’s annual electricity usage.

Their wind system generates between 20,000 and 22,000 kwh of electricity annually, nearly double what they use to aerate and store a half-million bushels of grain and soybeans on one of their 10 farms. The excess power is sold to Alliant Energy, their local electric utility, at the going retail price of roughly 11¢/kwh.

Hammer says the turbine, which went online in September 2009, already looks like a good investment. He credits his wife with being the driving force for getting the system installed. “Nancy did all the research, wrote the grants to get funding and found the contractor to do the installation. I was too busy farming.”

The couple grows 1,800 acres of wheat, corn and identity-preserved soybeans and operates a small country elevator in addition to drying and storing their own grain and beans.

A significant audit. Kavazanjian explains how they got involved in wind energy. “Back in 2008, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service asked us to participate in a whole-farm energy audit pilot program,” she says. “The audit covered our house, barn, grain drying system, everything, and showed us ways we could be more efficient. We had already thought about solar energy, but the audit showed us how wind energy would be better.” Kavazanjian learned how to write grants and spent the winter applying for funding.

She also got in touch with Randy Faller of Kettle View Renewable Energy LLC, a full-service wind system installation company. Faller acts as a wind adviser for Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program, which works with residents and businesses to install cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

“Randy was a wonderful resource,” Kavazanjian says. “He helped us with assessing where to locate our turbine for maximum efficiency, what kind of system to buy and how to find a reputable contractor.”

Hammer and Kavazanjian received a $20,000 grant through USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program and about $18,000 from the Focus on Energy program. They also took advantage of a tax credit offered in the federal government’s stimulus plan.

The turbine cost about $85,000. The balance was financed through a bank.

“This was a project that we could pencil out for a 10% interest with an 11-year payback period,” Kavazanjian says. “Where else are you going to get that kind of a return these days?”

Moving air. The Jacobs 31-20 wind energy system has three 30' blades that sit atop a 120' lattice tower. The turbine generates power for the couple’s Quonset flat-storage facility, where they store soybeans and corn.

“We lay large perforated plastic tubes covered with cloth material on the concrete floor and pile the grain over the top,” Hammer explains. “Then we run air through the tubes to keep the grain cool and dry.”

The turbine connects to the electrical grid via a two-way meter. When electricity is being used, the meter runs forward; when the turbine generates electricity, the meter runs backward. The excess energy is fed back to the grid for credit, and the couple gets a check from the utility company.

Under Wisconsin’s net metering rule, utilities pay a retail rate for excess electricity of up to 20 kwh; for anything above that, they pay a wholesale rate. Net metering rules vary by state.

Faller commends Hammer and Kavazanjian for the way they have approached wind energy. “They did their homework,” he says. “That’s important because you need to make a lot of assessments before you make the investment.”

Kavazanjian says the addition of a wind energy system fits in perfectly with the couple’s farming philosophy.

“We are committed to conservation, getting our costs down, being as efficient as possible,” she explains. “Our motto is ‘Our Soil: Our Strength.’ Using wind energy is just one more way to help us get our cost down and build toward the future.”

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