It’s almost a perfect cycle. Six white gutters lined with basil plants rest over two fish tanks. A pipe leads from the tanks and branches to a T above a bed of grass. Barry Adler opens the valve.
Collected rainwater soaks the basil roots and drains into the fish tanks. The fish tanks water the grass. The soil and gravel clean the water. The grass feeds ducks and worms. The ducks lay eggs, and the worms make compost – the fish eat the worms, and the compost grows basil.
At least that’s how it’s designed to work.
“This is the farm of the future,” said Adler, a Union County Farm Bureau member, emphasizing his new greenhouse is a work in progress.
Adler doesn’t advocate that all farmers invest in such an experimental system, but he notes that farmers are very in tune with the sustainable use of resources. Perhaps that’s why many are interested in what Adler has right outside of the building.
Producing more than crops
Adler stood under what looks like a model airplane on top of a flagpole that rises twice as high as the greenhouse.
“The wind turbine kicks on at about 6 miles per hour,” he said.
The greenhouse at his farm, RainFresh Harvests, is off the grid. That means it generates all of its own electricity using wind and solar energy rather than tapping into the network of power plants, substations and power lines that carry electricity to most homes. The result is that Adler’s customers, which include Whole Foods Market and the Northstar Cafe in Columbus, will receive herbs that are grown using sustainable methods and 100 percent green energy.
According to Dale Arnold, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of energy services, it’s not uncommon for farmers to install wind systems similar to Adler’s 1.0 kilowatt unit. And why not? For centuries, farmers have used windmills to pump water and grind grain, and recently farmers have been hit hard by the rising cost of energy.
Arnold said most want to stay on the grid and use alternative energy sources just to supplement their power supply. But farmers are starting to look beyond their fields when it comes to wind energy.
The prevailing wind
“You’re going to see more utility scale wind development happen over the next two years,” Arnold said.
That means Ohio residents will be able to choose energy that is better for the environment and, once the capital investment is paid off, costs virtually nothing to produce. And because wind farms require wide open fields, some farmers are starting to consider leasing their land to wind developers.
“Farmers farm right up to the base of the turbine so the ground is still being used for agriculture,” Arnold said. He added that farmers typically involve the entire community in making decisions when they are approached by wind developers.
Arnold noted the Ohio Farm Bureau is a member of the Ohio Wind Working Group and is shaping the policies and procedures to bring wind farms to the state.
So just how much wind blows across Ohio?
“We have just enough to make utility scale wind viable,” Arnold said, adding that western Ohio is better suited for wind farms.
He explained that nuclear and coal-fired power are still the cheapest ways to supply basic energy needs. But wind power will help manage peak times of energy consumption such as early in the morning when appliances are often used or during the summer when air conditioners are running. He said wind energy is now cheaper than natural gas or petroleum.
Ohio’s access to the electrical grid also makes it an attractive place to locate a wind farm. If a wind farm produces more energy than a local community can use, the energy can be put on the grid and sold as a commodity. That’s not the case in remote states such as South Dakota, which have ideal winds but lack the means to distribute electricity. Arnold added that Ohio is second only to California in its capability to manufacture the parts used in wind turbines.
Off to a good start
Many hope the success of the state’s first utility scale wind turbines in Bowling Green is an indication of things to come.
“Everyone says these things are awesome. And if they go further, they say it’s good to feel that you’re part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Don Scherer, a retired professor emeritus of environmental ethics at Bowling Green State University.
With its first two wind turbines installed in 2003, the Bowling Green wind farm now has four 1.8 megawatt turbines. Scherer said each turbine costs a little more than $2 million and supplies power to an average of 900 homes.
“Folks are saying it’s kind of nice to sit out there in the evening and watch them,” Arnold said.
And that’s because developers were very careful in how they designed the farm.
“They set the turbines back from property boundaries,” Scherer said. “Really these machines are very quiet, You can stand under them and talk in a regular conversational voice.”
While some have expressed concern that migratory birds may be killed by the turbine’s spinning blades, Scherer said that, to date, no dead birds have been found.
“The birds do tend to follow the waterways, the waterways do tend to be lower in elevation, and the turbines do better on the relatively high ground,” he said. So far, 11 bats of common species have been found dead, he said.
Scherer noted it will be about 13 years until the turbines are paid for, and then the cost of producing energy will drop to less than a penny per kilowatt-hour. But he said the turbines mean more to the community than just a low-cost, low-maintenance source of energy.
“They are symbols of productivity working with nature,” he said.
And for Ohio farmers, that’s a concept that is easy to embrace.
Attention teachers and parents: Find out how this story connects to Ohio’s Academic Content standards for social studies.
Behind the Wind
Wind is the result of air flowing from high pressure to low pressure areas until it reaches a balance. Changes in temperature result in changes in pressure.
An electric current as strong as 765,000 volts leaves a power plant and travels up to 300 miles along high-voltage transmission lines. At a substation the voltage is reduced to about 7,200 volts and the power is transferred to a network of wires that lead to individual neighborhoods. At each home a transformer reduces the current to 240 volts, which is the standard electrical service.
The measurement of electric current equivalent to 1,000 watts being used continuously for one hour. This is enough to power a 40-watt light bulb for a day, a television for four hours, a computer for 2.5 hours, a hairdryer for 30 to 60 minutes and a dryer for 15 minutes.
Source: www.energyvortex.com, www.howstuffworks.com