Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wind turbine saves electricity for local organic farmers

By Michele Bourdieu

Installed last May 2011 and connected to the Ontonagon County REA (Rural Electrification Association), this wind turbine is already saving organic farmers Sue Raker and Fred Galloway many kilowatt hours of electricity for both present and future use on their property near Calumet. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

CALUMET -- Just about two miles from Lake Superior near Calumet, on a Keweenaw farm well positioned for winds, owners Suzanna Raker and Fred Galloway watched with anticipation last May 2011 as engineers raised a wind tower and turbine that not only would generate electricity for their home and farming needs but would earn them kilowatt hour credits with the Ontonagon County REA (Rural Electrification Association) grid for the future.

While the farm is already equipped with several solar panels that feed batteries for the house and for farm use, such as electric fences to protect beehives, the wind turbine is expected to provide even greater savings in electricity costs.

These 16 solar panels feed batteries to provide electricity for the house and farm needs. Smaller solar panels on the farm are used for other uses on the property, such as the sauna and electric fencing.

"I'm pretty excited about it," Galloway said. "Combined with the solar, it should pretty much do away with our electric bill."

Since the installation of the turbine last May, the good news is just that.

"We don't have a power bill. Every month we have a credit," Raker said recently. "We're producing 350-400 kw hours a month, with a credit of about 50 kw hours per month.

Christopher Stahl, president of Lake Effect Energy Corporation -- based in Harbor Springs, Mich. -- was present on the property during the installation of the 120-foot-high wind turbine, Model ARE 110 built by the Xzeres Company.* Lake Effect delivered the wind turbine, installed it and interconnected it with the REA.

Stahl said several factors must be studied during the wind site resource assessment to determine the height of the tower.

Christopher Stahl, president of Lake Effect Energy Corporation, left, chats with organic farm co-owner Fred Galloway during the installation of the wind turbine on the property last May. Co-owner Sue Raker is in the background.

"Height is a very important factor because of turbulence," Stahl said. "The machine has to be in a clear air stream."

Stahl predicted this would be a great project with excellent output because of the location.

He said the first step in doing the assessment is to study the soil conditions to see how many pounds per square foot the soil can hold.

"That determines the size of our foundation," he explained.

For this tower a six-foot deep hole was excavated. A pad of concrete 14-ft square is part of the foundation.

Stahl brought a crew of five to do the installation of the tower last spring.

Three of the Lake Effect Energy crew members work on attaching the blade to the wind tower during installation in May 2011. Pictured here are, from right, Pete Cummings, Lake Effect vice-president; Zach Luhellier, a recent Northern Michigan University graduate; and Sam Simonetta (a former Michigan Tech student), mechanical engineer and senior certified site assessor.

They were Pete Cummings, vice-president; Chuck Dobry, a steel expert and certified welder who used to build bridges; Ryan Johnston, structural engineer; Zach Luhellier, a recent Northern Michigan University graduate; and Sam Simonetta (a former Michigan Tech student), mechanical engineer and senior certified site assessor.

"If you do solar electric or if you do wind, you're dealing with water, electricity, batteries -- you're going to have certain responsibilities," Raker said. "To be effective and safe, they require engineering."

Raker expressed confidence in Simonetta's professional skills.

"Sam is experienced and reliable," she said. "He's been a proponent of wind for a long time. Sam has used wind power on his own property east of Marquette for over 10 years."

Simonetta has been able to apply his engineering background from Michigan Tech.

"I do all the secondary engineering -- all the component layouts and all the auto-CAD (Computer Automated Design)," he said. "Pete Cummings does the majority of the construction."

Installing the wind turbine

The Lake Effect crew members prepare to raise the wind turbine, attached to a crane, on the Galloway-Raker farm near Calumet in May 2011. Crane operator Mike Nelson (left, background, in dark shirt) is from Midway Rentals in Negaunee, Mich.

Here is a video, taken from a safe distance, showing the tower and turbine being lifted by the crane. The length of the video is the time it took to raise it -- about 2 and a half minutes:

The wind turbine is lifted by the crane to a vertical position. (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

Fred Galloway, at right, observes as the Lake Effect crew members secure the base of the wind tower.

Once the base is secured, Sam Simonetta climbs the tower to unhook it from the crane.

After skilfully unhooking the tower from the crane, Simonetta descends safely to the ground.

The Color Purple

Stahl noted the purple color of the blades is meant to discourage birds, but is not really required or necessary on machines less than 20 kw; and this is a 2.7 kw "point of use" system (i.e., a system used at the location where it is installed).

However, Raker said she insisted on the purple color.

"In the E.U. and U.K., two separate studies, conducted over eight years, found that the color purple discouraged insects, bats and birds," Raker noted.

She said the extra cost for the purple color is worth it for the birds and insects.

"Our farm is a certified organic farm. On an organic farm everything fits together. It's synergistic," Raker explained.

The couple's house, built in Baraga County in 1895, is an example of recycling the old and making it energy efficient. Virtually everything -- from the hardwood floors to the trim on the doors -- is made from recycled materials.

The well insulated farmhouse has a foundation made from stones that were all collected from rock piles on (this) property. The windows have heat mirrors that block UV rays, but allow heat to come through in the winter -- aided by an overhang from the roof.

"We took it apart and brought it here, log by log, numbered the logs and put it back up," Raker said. "We super-insulated it."

In addition to the special heat mirrors on the windows, Raker said, they used special insulating panels on the roof and insulated the walls with rigid insulation and a non-deteriorating vapor barrier.

The farm also has a small windmill on a field for aerating the pond and pumping water. It acts as an air compressor. A greenhouse is heated with passive solar tubes.

This greenhouse on the property is heated by passive solar energy: The blue Kal-Wal tubes at right absorb solar heat and release it slowly and evenly.

Raker anticipates that having more wind energy with the turbine will especially help in the winter when the farm uses more electricity and there is less sunlight for the solar panels.

The total cost of the wind turbine and tower was $51,000, Raker noted. One fourth of that was a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Energy Access Program (REAP).

"These grants are designed for small rural businesses and farms," Raker said. "We used the Organic Valley Cooperative grant system available to all producing members of the cooperative. We've been in that co-op as grower members since 2006."

A guaranteed loan from the USDA Farm Service Agency covers the other three fourths of the cost.

Raker, who is a veteran, said the Veterans Administration is now backing solar for veterans' homes under certain conditions.**

When asked about the motivation for adding wind energy to the farm, Raker said, "We just do it because we want to do it and it's the right thing to do and it works."

* Click here to read about Lake Effect Energy Corporation of Michigan. Click here to read about the Xzeres Wind Company.

** For information on solar loans for Veterans, see or call a veterans benefits counselor in Iron Mountain at 906-774-3300 and hit O for operator.

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