Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pesky Wind Turns into Blessing for Tully Farm

Empire Farm & Dairy magazine


TULLY — Ed Doody’s late father, Lawrence, used to curse the wind that blew through his family’s hilltop farm nearly every day.

Now the business is benefitting from the electrical power generated by a 140-foot windmill that was installed on the farm more than 4½ years ago.

Doody farm windmill. Photo by Leslie Sheldon
“My father had always cursed the wind for years and years,” Doody said. “Too bad he wasn’t here to see it now that we’re taking advantage of it.”

Doody and his brothers, Rich and Kevin, who operate Lawrence Doody & Sons LLC, a 400-cow dairy farm in Tully, Onondaga County, are located at an elevation of 1,700 feet above sea level. They get some degree of wind almost every day.

The Endurance E3120 50-kilowatt wind turbine that was erected generates about two thirds of the electrical power needed to operate the farm.

“It wasn’t designed to cover all of our electric needs, but it’s provided more than what the expectations were,” Ed Doody said. “We had budgeted that it would cover about half of our farm needs, and every year it has provided more than that so far.”

The cost to operate the farm runs about $2,500-3,000 per month. With the power generated by the windmill, their cost savings are about $2,000 per month or approximately $25,000 per year.

The Doodys were approached by a representative of CEC Energy, a franchise of Cazenovia Equipment Company, which had measured the wind velocity at 140 feet and told them they were in an excellent location for installing a windmill.

The wind velocity measures about 12 meters per second at that height on average throughout the year.

The Doodys started looking into the possibility in 2011 and it took a year and a half to go through the permit process and grant applications.

“It was a questionable thing when we started because there’s not a windmill on top of every hill here that you can go see how it’s doing for your neighbor,” Ed Doody said.

The large wind farms in various parts of the state have caused much controversy among residents living nearby. Many have objected to having the turbines near their properties, but the Doodys had no issues erecting their relatively smaller windmill.

“We have no zoning ordinances here, so it’s pretty easy to do what we wanted to here,” Doody said. “We’ve always tried to keep it a neat-looking farm and be progressive and get along with our neighbors. It fit in well here.”

The new wind turbine started generating power in September 2012.

“We had been intrigued by it for years, my brothers and I,” Doody said. “When we finally got it up, we were pretty impressed with the way it worked,” Doody said.

The windmill generates about 125,000 kW per year. On especially windy days the windmill produces more electricity than is needed to operate the farm. When that happens the electricity is fed back on the power line and is credited to the farm’s account.

The Doodys have had some service issues with the windmill, including some breakdowns and off times. And whenever the power shuts off on the grid, the Doodys’ windmill has to shut down so that no workers are exposed to electricity feeding back on the line.

The windmill has a five-year warranty so the Doodys have not had to worry about maintenance costs. That will change in September when the warranty expires.

“It could be a factor in years to come after the 5-year warranty is up,” Doody said. “If we have to bring in a crane or do some extensive service work, it could be pretty costly, so I’m concerned about that in the future.”

After the wind turbine was operating for two years, Doody and his brothers each decided to install a 120-foot, 10-kW windmill to generate power at his house, and Doody said the windmills have been very effective there, too.

“They’ve generated more power than we use at our homes,” Doody said. “We’re convinced that wind energy is a thing of the future.”

Financing and funding

The farm windmill was a substantial cost to the business. It was financed through Farm Credit, which also finances the farm.

“It was a large investment,” Doody said. “It was larger than buying another tractor or something like that.”

After committing to the windmill and putting a down payment on the project, the Doodys started applying for funding to offset the cost.

They were turned down for a federal grant, which would have reimbursed them for 30 percent of the purchase price.

They then applied for a state grant, which was guaranteed, and were reimbursed 50 percent.

Because they were turned down for the federal grant, the Doodys were offered a federal income tax credit comparable to what the amount of the grant would have been. It was a high-profit year for the business, so it came in handy.

“Even if we didn’t get the grants, we felt that it would pay for itself over the long term,” Doody said.

The windmill has a 40-year life expectancy, and the Doodys knew they have consistently strong wind to power it, and they were assured that it would supply a certain amount of power each year.

“We could pencil it out on paper that it was a good investment,” Ed Doody said.

Tapping into solar power, too

The Doodys installed solar panels in November through IGS Solar to supplement the wind power. There are 16 solar panels on the roof of the milking parlor and 12 on the calf barn. Each panel is a standard size of 4x8 feet.

“The state has a solar program specifically designed for dairy farmers to reduce energy needs,” Doody said. “With the state programing funding the majority of it, it was a no-brainer, to be cost effective.”

The state program provided 75 percent of the cost of the project.

The power generated heats the hot water needed for washing their milking equipment and for warm water in the calf barn.

Doody said it’s too soon to see results on that project, but it looks promising.

One concern with the solar panels will be the cost to replace them in a few years.

“The windmill has a 40-year life expectancy whereas most solar panels are only 15-20 years, and therefore that would be an additional cost in time,” Doody said.

Renewable energy important

Renewable energy is important to the Doody family.

“I don’t see any future for burning coal,” Doody said. “I expect oil prices will continue to escalate if there’s another crisis in the Mid-East or somewhere. Oil prices could change within a few days.”

What’s going on in the Middle East is so volatile.

“I think that’s more risky than putting up a windmill and wondering if it’s going to pay, to depend on the Arab countries for oil.”

He says he doesn’t think ethanol is the answer, either.

“It’s caused the prices that we pay for corn and soy on our farm to escalate over the years,” Doody said. 

“There’s about a third of the U.S. corn crop that goes to ethanol right now.”

Finding more information

Doody cautioned that other farmers should look closely at wind power before making a decision.

“It’s a long-term commitment, so it really has to have cash flow projections to make it pay,” Doody said.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was especially helpful to the Doodys as they researched whether to turn to wind power.

“NYSERDA helped us quite a bit,” Doody said. “With the basic research, they helped us out. They have maps, and they know the wind velocity up there at 140 feet high and whether it’s feasible.”

The Doodys have had quite a few people visit their farm to determine whether windmills are a good fit for their operations. Some visitors questioned whether they had the wind velocity it takes to make it pay.

“With wind power, location is the key to it all,” Doody said. “You’ve got to be up on a hill where the wind blows.”

Since the Doodys put up their first windmill, Cazenovia Equipment Company sold its energy franchise to United Wind.

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