When we first moved here 4.5 years ago, we had a shocking and ultimately laughable demonstration of prairie wind power. Three-year-old Jens opened the screen door on our front porch, which was caught by the south wind, and he was violently flung across the porch, down the five stairs, and rolled across the gravel until he nearly rolled under one of the parked cars. After the initial shock of seeing your child fly through the air and land many feet away, unharmed, we've had many good laughs at the image. In the convening years we've had the hinges blown off the door multiple times, tried any number of door catching devices- even some hill billy tree stumps strategically positioned on the porch.
The wind, I found, is relentless- blowing shingles off the roof; making the whole farm clatter and the empty silos sound like frightening pan pipes. The tender garden produce gets sand blasted and my exposed skin gets a cheap micro-dermabrasion.
The wind always wins, ultimately. And if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So we've invested in a wind turbine and some thrilling parafoil kites.
I've been a bit reluctant to talk about our wind turbine as early in the venture one of my neighbors sauntered up to me and said, "say- I hear we have a wealthy farmer in the neighborhood." "Really- who?" "Well, the electrician was over and says he's putting up a wind turbine." wink-wink-nod-nod. A bit ironic since his tractor costs the same as about 4 of our modest wind turbines.
Nonetheless, there's a perception that a wind turbine is a nice luxury. And to be sure, we're grateful to be able to pull together the capital to put this baby up. But that said- 2011 was a good, sensible year to invest in a wind turbine. 1) There was a 30% federal tax credit for farm renewable energy projects as part of the economic stimulus, and 2) there was an allowance to depreciate up to 85% of the cost in year 1. So if you had income to offset, this was a good way to do it. After the stimulus tax credit and the depreciation over the coming years, I am hoping that this turbine pays for itself within 8 years. (knocking on wood). That will depend on our income and, of course, that wind keeps howling like it is tonight.
With 6 months of wind energy production data under our belt, our Bergey 10kw turbine is producing 2.5 times the amount of power that we use on our farm. The excess power is put onto the grid and used by our fellow Agralite Rural Electric Cooperative members. Though I get mixed messages from Agralite as to whether they like having wind power in their mix (reading the monthly newsletter), they have been professional, responsible and easy to work with in getting us grid tied. So - thank you Agralite.
I know that there are simpler ways for Agralite to get power- namely buying it from Great River Energy. And they seem to be very fond of coal- offering trips to coal-country every year for members. But I hope they also appreciate that just as our nation will be better off with domestic energy, that having some home-grown power produced right here in the Agralite service area is good for all our members and creates economic development for our region. So - let's mix it up a little.
At first we tried to site the turbine on the side of the farm where we couldn't see it. In the end- it sits right out our front door, down next to the barn. And frankly, it is a beauty to behold- I'm glad I can see it out the front door and perfectly in line with my office window. I love the way the turbine looks on this farm. Now in the morning I check the thermometer and then look out at the turbine to see the wind speed and direction.
And so, we made this maddening wind part of our long term farm plan. And even more than that- I discovered parafoil kites. Oh joy of joys! Forget those plastic $2.99 kites-- they are a bane to kiting. These parafoil kites were made to love the wind and the sky and can't be kept down. Over the past few months with a few bucks invested in some of these nylon parafoils I have fallen in love, again, with this prairie.
The kids and I sit on top of the giant hay bales and our kites voluntarily lift into the air. Then we just lean back in the hay and meditate on four or five brilliant colored kites in a sky so blue that your heart just aches. Sometimes we go out into the prairie preserve and fly our kites out there as well. One day Alma and I just laid in the tall grass- one of the nice January days when we didn't even need our coats (the first of such days in my lifetime).
One day last fall I was out alone with a couple kites on the edge of the prairie- but still in our field. An unknown hunter walked to the edge of the prairie and watched me flying those kites and I was jumping with excitement when a kite might dive into the tall slough grass and with a pull (from 200 ft away!!) of the kite string the kite would BOUND back up into the air. Truly amazing for me. The hunter looked at me and held his gun over his head with two hands-- I took it as some kind of salute to giddy use of this good day and good wind.
And so I've found not only peace with the windy prairie, but some profit, and even more importantly a new soul filling joy.
Tonight's forecast is summed up in one word "WINDY."