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Energy from sun and wind works for Ohio agriculture
Ohio Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s clean, and it’s unlimited. It’s solar energy, and every 20 days of sunshine produces the same about of energy as is found in all the Earth’s energy reserves of coal, oil and natural gas. Add to that the power of wind energy, and it’s a winning combination for Ohioans looking for alternatives to traditional energy sources.

Robert Howard of Blacklick, Ohio, is a local celebrity in energy activist circles. Located just east of Columbus, Howard powers his 4.5-acre property - Victory Farms - with a wind turbine and two solar arrays.

Howard’s claim to fame? He was the first small wind turbine owner in American Electric Power’s Ohio service territory to take advantage of the 1978 federal law allowing him to recoup the utility’s “avoided costs.” As a result of his efforts and those of others, net metering of solar, wind and other distributed generation is now available to 90 percent of Ohio’s 11 million people under a state law that went into effect in 2001.

Howard and his wife Valerie initially installed a 10-kilowatt (kW) unit in 1989 to power their homestead and fresh-water shrimp farming experiment.

“The alternative energy worked very well for our situation due to the poor reliability of the utility service in our area,” Howard said. “The shrimp needed a reliable source of power, and the 10 kW turbine and 2 kW of PV with 360 amp Hr of storage battery backup gave us the power security we needed for 24/7/365 operation.”

It took a couple of lawsuits, but Howard now receives a credit from AEP for the wind-generated electricity he puts on the grid. That’s part of the reason Howard was named Green Energy Ohio’s first “Pioneer of the Year” award in 2001.

“We fought the battle for all the residents of the great state of Ohio on net metering with AEP,” Howard said. “This worked great from 2001 to 2003 until AEP unbundled its services. Now we get avoided cost - $.045/kWh).”

Howard said he still has a lot to say on the issues with AEP, and he continues to spread the good news about alternative energy.

“I was always interested in articles about wind, sun and alternative energy systems and the concept of permaculture,” Howard said. “I guess the whole ‘self-sufficient’ was the root of my interest. I always like to read about how the early American settlers and farmers were self-reliant.

Howard currently powers his property with an 18-kiloWatt Jacobs wind turbine and two solar arrays and includes a battery backup, which he now uses to power his home and Victory Farm. After selling his shrimp farm, Howard now produces perch, shiitake mushrooms and eggs.

“Everything has been positive,” Howard said. “Just a few negative people, but they were not neighbors, and the system has no impact on them. They lived three miles from the site. They just wanted to cause a political stir. In general, it was 99 percent positive.”

Because of his overwhelmingly positive experience, Howard encourages other producers to look into how they can put these technologies to work in their own operations.

“Do your homework on wind conditions,” advises Howard, noting that each site needs to have wind studies for at least a one-year period to determine what the wind speed is at the proposed turbine height.

“Bigger is always better,” Howard said. “My unit is 18kWh on a 130-foot tower. I would like to go bigger, say 65kWh or 100kWh.”

Unfortunately for Howard, his tower can only hold 1,200 pounds at the top. His advice is to purchase a bigger, beefed up tower to start with, giving more upgrade opportunities.

This farm news was published in the Sept. 6, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.