Harold Welch of Scott Township says he’d never discourage anyone from putting a windmill up for power. But if he had it do over again, he probably wouldn’t.
The third generation farmer had a 100-foot tall, $45 thousand windmill installed in July of 2005, hoping to supplement the energy needs of their 60-head dairy farm in Scott Township.
Welch methodically did his homework, purchasing a $300-$350 wind totalizer to measure the wind on his farm before buying a windmill. The wind totalizer measures, “how much wind blows by a fixed point,” he said. Measurements tracked supported a windmill on his property.
Welch also researched available grants, securing two. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which encourages alternative energy use, he said, provided a little over $27,600; while Penelec electric company offered a $5 thousand grant.
He was hoping to generate 1500 kilowatt hours per month to supplement the farm’s energy needs. The reality is roughly half of what he’d hoped for. A recently installed kilowatt meter recorded 716 kilowatt hours for February and 824 kilowatt hours in March.
“We’ve had several bumps in the road,” he said of their windmill. When it was first installed, it didn’t work due to a faulty inverter. Two and a half months passed before the company was able to supply a new part. That worked for four-and-a-half months, until it was struck by lightening. “The inverter looked like you dropped a hand grenade in it,” he said. Replacing the inverter came with a price tag of $4 to $5 thousand. Welch figures, “the lightening followed the barn and jumped into the line.” Though the majority of their wiring was underground, it only took that small section of above ground wiring to cause the problem, Welch said. Based on what he’s been through, he recommends burying all of your windmill wiring underground. “There’s a learning curve about everything. I learned my lesson the hard way,” he said.
A third inverter didn’t work because of the lightening strikes, Welch said. He’s grateful the windmill company didn’t charge him that time. They finally figured out that the lightening had demagnetized the permanent magnets in the turbine and got things running again.
“I do believe in alternative energy, but if I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t. I’d put the money into other conservation practices,” he said, like an outside wood stove to heat the water, instead of electricity. They milk their cows twice a day, he said. And everyday, they have to sanitize the pipeline. That sanitation utilizes a fair amount of water, he said.
“My site may not be as good of a location,” he said of his windmill, which sits on a hill at the farm. But he’s still highly conservation minded. “Wind and solar energy all have a part to play in adding to our energy resources,” he said.
By Tammy Compton
27 May 2008
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