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Small wind turbines gaining popularity with Ohio farmers

COLUMBUS, Ohio — So much has been made about wind farms of late. Ohio farmers, along with businesses and industries, have been installing medium to large wind turbines for more than a decade and the state is now ranked sixth in the nation for the amount of power these turbines can generate for on-site use or nearby delivery.

In an annual market report issues last week, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said by the end of 2016, non-utility wind turbines in Ohio had a total generating capacity of 42.5 megawatts, or 42.5 million watts.

Big may be better, but not all farmers can afford these monstrous energy producers on their farm. They are not cheap. Some farmers are turning their attention to smaller turbines, then, designed strictly for the farm.

Across the United States last year, roughly 77,000 smaller turbines were installed in all 50 states. These are producing power range in capacity from a few hundred watts to 500 kilowatts and even as large as 1-2 MWs – from backyard-sized machines up to utility-scale turbines for on-site industrial use.

Much smaller than the business-scale turbines, yet a bit larger than those smaller turbines, one will find six 120-foot-tall turbines at the farm of Ralph Dull near Brookville, in western Ohio. The Dull homestead is a model of modern agriculture and much has been done in the name of efficiency, stewardship of the land and technology.

In the spring of 2004, the Dull family, with their contractor Third Sun Solar and Wind Power, raised six Bergey Excel-S 10-kW wind generators. They are placed in a row running north-south to harvest the predominant wind from the west.

“The output from our turbines is processed by battery-free inverters, then fed into the farm’s three-phase 208-volt power system,” Dull explained, “offsetting the most expensive power used on the farm. The six generators were selected to keep the three-phase power balanced and provide maximum power from available space.”

Renewable energy is not the first of the farm owners’ moves toward sustainable practices. They have successfully designed and constructed an on-site biomass-fired seed drying process, eliminating thousands of BTUs of gas previously used for this energy-intensive step.

Though Dull didn’t disclose the cost of erecting the six turbines, according to the DOE such turbines can cost farmers upwards of $20,000 to install.

Turbine installation is becoming easier and the costs have plummeted over time. More importantly, farmers can erect such turbines that are half as high as the Dull farm’s, with the ability to take care of smaller electrical needs on the farm, such as lighting and bin drying.

Dave Mays of Hillsboro uses three small 80-foot turbines to offset some electrical costs from his hog farm. Mays said he waited several years for manufacturers to work out the “kinks” in the turbines and waited for the cost of erecting them to drop as well. Their $8,000 price tag wasn’t cheap, he pointed out.

“I’ve learned that wind turbines need wind. Not just any wind, but the nicely flowing, smooth, laminar kind,” he said. “That cannot be found at 30 feet, nor can it be found at 60 feet. You need to reach 80 feet where the wind is often steady.

“Close to the ground, the wind is turbulent, and makes a poor fuel for the smaller turbines that are hitting the market,” he explained.