Phase Three - Solar Energy
November 9, 2015: We are excited to now be fully operational with our solar energy system. Together with our three wind turbines, we should now be able to generate 110% of our energy needs. This insures us to be able to care for our animals should the electric grid go down for an extended time. We now have three sources for electric energy: the grid, the windmills, and the solar arrays. We also still have generators on hand as backup to power our batteries should we need them as well.
The solar system consists of 4 solar arrays, comprised of 160 panels, and is expandable should we need to add more in the future. Meanwhile, we still try to conserve as much as we can to help our environment. We are very proud to be taking these steps to help lessen our footprint of our planet.
August 2013: The windmills provide us with about 55-60% of our electricity needs averaged over the year. The main goal was to be able to care for the animals in the event of the grid being down for an extended period of time. Although we have never had to test that, so far, for more than half a day, we feel we are able to meet that objective. We would be able to operate at a minimal capacity to provide care for the animals.
September 28, 2009: We are now fully operational! We are just tweaking the system now to optimalize our kilowatt hours.
July 2, 2009: The electric company has now finally completed installing the reverse meters for our windmills today. There is a large bureaucratic process that takes months to complete before we could finally reach this point. There are still some parts of the project being finished this summer.
October 17, 2008: The windmills are standing!!! Luckily we were blessed with perfect weather to complete this phase of the project as scheduled. The windmills are now up, the trenching between the windmills and to the control room are complete. And trenching has started from the control room to the various buildings on the farm. The next phase will be to run the wires through the conduit in the trenches and then to set up all the equipment in the control room. Once that is done, the remaining trenches are completed, and the wire run through them, the set up phase will be complete and we will be ready to be operational. Set up is expected to be 2-3 weeks if all goes to plan. But it could be months before we are generating our own electricity. We are waiting now for our electric company to approve their part of the project and to move on that. So although you can now see the windmills and even will be able to see them spinning on occasion, they are not yet functional. Here are some photos of the windmills being installed.
The windmills are 10kw from Bergey
The truck arrives with the 3 windmills. We all kept saying, "that doesn't look like 3 windmills on there!" But it was.
The towers are first assembled on the ground and then the turbines are attached. The blades are put on just before the crane lifts them up.
Bonnie, Margot, and Dawn welcomed the turbines to the farm. Bonnie gives you an idea of the size of the turbine itself.
The first windmill is being lifted by the crane.
The first windmill now up on its base. The guy wires are now tightened to hold it in place.
Then one brave soul climbs the 120 foot tower and detaches it from the crane. This also gives you a size reference for the tower itself.
On the next day, the final two windmills were lifted into place.
The three windmills looking towards the future of the farm.
September 2008: Groundbreaking has begun!!! The footers for the 3 towers and the anchors for the guy wires have been poured and are now curing. Trenching from the towers to the control center is also now completed. Here are some photos of the project in progress.
This is the pad for the base of one of the windmill towers.
This is the footer for one of the anchor bolts to which a guy wire attaches.
This is the trench running between the towers.
This is the trench that runs from the windmills to the control center where the batteries and other equipment are stored.
June 2008: After two years, our town's Planning Board has unanimously voted to approve the plans for our three 10kw wind turbines on 120 ft. towers that we will be installing this summer. This is a complicated project both physically and logistically and we expect the towers to be up and operational by this fall. Our plan is to document this entire process so that it can be a helpful road map for others to follow in the future. Please read below for all of the details of why we are doing this and what we hope to achieve.
Why Alternative Energy?
Spring Farm CARES became aware of the need for an alternative energy plan back in 1998. In January of 1998, a widespread and catastrophic ice storm hit many parts of New York State. While we were not affected here at Spring Farm, we had reports from the Watertown area of extensive, long term, power outages, which resulted in the deaths of many hundreds of farm animals. Farmers who were caught without generators or back up energy sources could not get water to their animals, among many other problems they encountered. Many who had generators could not get gasoline to run them as gas stations began to shut down when they too could not pump the gas or encountered sudden shortages as new supplies of fuel could not be delivered. There also was loss of human life as people literally struggled to survive the cold without electricity. This storm made us take a hard look at our own situation and to ask several questions.
1. Could we provide for our animals to keep them alive during a similar circumstance?
2. Would we be able to continue to function as an employer to the 25 employees who not only handle the physical care of the animals but also depend on us for employment to support their families?
3. Would we be a resource to our community or would we be desperately trying to get their help to save the animals?
4. What did we need to do to plan for a catastrophic event so that we could be as self-reliant as possible?
These were difficult questions to face. The first thing that we did was to invest in generators to be able to at least run the water pump to provide water to the animals. Without electricity, we are without water, heat, refrigeration... and many aspects of our operation which the animals depend on for survival, not to mention we humans. This brought us some peace of mind but we also knew this was not a long term answer as we were now completely dependant on the availability of gasoline to keep the generators operating. Then there were other events that propelled us further in our planning.
September 11, 2001, changed the thinking of many people around the world, but most especially here in this country. Just how vulnerable are our most critical infrastructures? And how quickly life can suddenly change. Like everyone else, we began to realize that the world had abruptly changed on many levels. Then, August 14, 2003 another event occurred that again drove home the point to find an alternative energy source, the great blackout of 2003. Again, Spring Farm CARES was spared the worst of it, having only lost power for a few hours. But many went without for several days. At this point, we started seriously looking into answers to our questions.
The first step was to hire a consultant to look into not only what was available in technology, but specifically addressing the needs of Spring Farm CARES and our objectives of such a plan. We chose someone who had been involved with Disaster Recovery Planning for 28 years and was very familiar with our organization as a whole. This study and subsequent report took place for over a year. Then in 2005, the nation watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. One of our staff members went to help with animal rescue for over two weeks. We heard, and saw through his photographs, first hand, the absolute devastation, loss of human and animal life, and the desperation of those in need. There were not enough resources available to help. It was days before any aid could get there. Lives were lost by the hundreds for humans, and by the many thousands for animals. No, we are not in an area affected by hurricanes, but we can still be affected by so many other natural and man made disasters. And we realized fully that we can not expect our governments or local communities to be able to respond to the full need of everyone in trouble. The responsibility was ours to take care of the animals in our care, to continue to be able to support our staff who in turn support the animals, AND to be a resource to our community. Because if we could be self-reliant, then not only would we not be a drain on our community, but we could be a very valuable resource for those desperately in need. We mobilized in earnest.
The final factor in our planning involves the very real environmental changes occurring on our planet. For many, the topic of global warming is a political issue. We believe strongly that this is not political at all but is a moral and ethical issue and one that must be faced and addressed immediately. We feel that we have a responsibility not only to care for the animals in our trust, but to do so in a way that helps the environment, or at the very least, minimizes our impact on this planet. We began to ask ourselves, how big is the footprint that we as an organization and as individuals are leaving on this planet. We only have one planet. The science is irrefutable that changes are occurring. And the evidence is overwhelming that we absolutely can change it and turn it around for the better, but we must do so now. This became the second part of our objective.
Our Mission Statement
To boldly go forward in researching and implementing the best environmentally friendly methods to sustain all residents (human and animal) of Spring Farm CARES during anticipated effects of global warming and reduced availability of carbon fuels. Actively prepare to mitigate and recover from any local or regional disaster threats. Quickly act to reduce dependence on outside resources needed to conduct daily operation of the Farm as much as possible. Plan to phase these changes into effect sequentially over time as they become available and can be fit into the Farm budget. This includes being totally independent of the local electrical power grid within a maximum of ten years.
REDUCING OUR OWN ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Before we could do anything else, it was very obvious to us that our first step had to be to reduce our own energy consumption. A look at our energy usage showed that for us to be self-sustaining and off the grid, we would need to cut our energy usage by a whopping 50-60%. At first glance we thought that impossible. What could we give up? We were only using what we absolutely needed already, right? We all think that. And we, like many of you, immediately think that we can't do without certain things. Then we picture ourselves living in a shack without electricity and starving to death. We have become a society based on abundance and we have forgotten what is a necessity and what is a convenience. But in one year, our results are utterly amazing to us. We have already cut 40-60% off of our energy usage, depending on the season and circumstances. And we still have many things yet to implement. Here are some of the steps we took:
Step One: Attitude: Before we changed anything else we had to change our attitudes. We had to realize that each step we took was for the good of our environment and the planet. It really wasn't that hard, especially when we began to see immediate results. We got our staff involved and made it a challenge to see which work areas could cut the most off their energy usage. At first they all grumbled just like we did, but then they all became a part of the solution and it showed.
Step Two: Turn things off: This one is so easy that it is actually painless and just takes a little training. We began simply by turning lights off that were not needed or in use. Then we added the step of putting all electronics on power strips. This included, televisions, computers, VCR/DVD players, printers, copy machines and anything that could be off all night. All of the above mentioned constantly draw power EVEN when they are turned off! When anyone left their office area for more than 30 minutes, they turned their power strip off. Yes, its a hassle firing it all up again when they returned, but it saved quite a bit of energy.
Step Three: Replace Inefficient Appliances: This is obviously a more expensive endeavor and one which is ongoing as we replace equipment when needed. Although one of the first changes was to immediately replace all of our refrigerators. Refrigerators and freezers eat up a LOT of energy. Because we were going to switch over to alternative energy, the refrigerators had to be addressed in Phase One. We replaced 6 refrigerators and a small freezer in total for the whole property. We changed to Sun Frost energy efficient refrigerators which are made to run on alternative energy systems. Just doing that made an immediate, appreciable difference in our electric usage. When it came time to purchase a new washer (which we have to do about every 3 years here) we purchased an energy saving low water usage machine. We do about 12 loads of laundry per day on average. One washer and two electric dryers were always running. We built a large clothes line behind our facility and the staff began hanging out the majority of the laundry, weather permitting. Again, this had an enormous impact. When we need to buy new dryers we will be switching to propane instead of electric. We needed to replace one of our oil boilers and did so with a much more energy efficient model. We put the two electric water heaters, that we have in our barns, on timers so that we are not heating water we don't need. We also insulated those heaters.
Step Four: Being more energy conscious: Once we started seeing our monthly usage literally plummeting, we got even more involved and aware. We changed our thermostats so that in the summer we kept the air conditioning set at 75 instead of the 69-70 it was on last year. In the winter, we set the heat at 63-65 and wore heavier clothing, instead of the 70 degrees it was the year before. We are insulating more of our building this summer to hopefully see even more improvement this coming winter. We have switched some light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs. All of our outside lighting is now energy efficient and some of the indoor bulbs, although we still have many more to go with that. We also recycle as much as we can and we use as many "green" products as we can. From cleaning products to paper towels and toilet paper we have switched over. Most of these products are now within the same price range of the non green products. It is simply a matter of choice.
Step Five: Decide what truly is needed and what is a convenience: This is often not easy. And one person's necessity is someone else's convenience. There were things we thought we could not do without that we discovered we could and so could the animals. And there are things that we need to do for the animals that in a normal household could be downsized or done away with altogether, that is not an option for us. The trick is to take a good honest look and see what can go and what can not. Our small above ground pool that we had kept going for the staff (which was almost never used) was decidedly a convenience, so this spring we took it down. We all decided that the water cooler did not have to be running for the extra cold water. Those who wanted colder water, put bottles in the refrigerator. Did we have to give some luxuries up? Yes, we all gave up some things. But in the end, we saw that electric usage drop 40 - 60% and we all feel good about that. Like we are each doing something to help. Lowering our electric consumption as a society is a goal that is clearly within our grasp. It simply takes our deciding to do it and then to do it.
Other Ways We are Helping the Environment
FOSSIL FUEL CONSUMPTION
Another way we are trying to make a difference is to become much more aware of our fossil fuel consumption. Not only is oil a finite resource, but the fossil fuel emissions and resulting greenhouse gases are increasing dramatically and taking a heavy toll on our environment. We have already begun to limit our vehicle use by consolidating errand running and reducing shopping trips. We know we need to do a lot better, but at least it is a start. We look to the future of not being dependant on oil altogether but it will be awhile before we can get there. Technology such as Hybrid vehicles are becoming much more popular and available. As Spring Farm CARES needs to replace vehicles we will be looking to hybrid technology that best meets our needs. Unfortunately, being a farm, we do need some 4-wheel drive trucks that can haul hay wagons and pull our horse trailer. We had to replace that truck this year and we did so by buying a used 4 wheel drive diesel pick up truck. We chose diesel so that we would have the option of using bio-diesel fuel as it becomes available. It is available in some parts of the country now, but not yet in our area. Same is true with our farm tractors which now both run on diesel fuel. We hope to be making that switch as soon as the fuel becomes available to us.
We are just entering Phase Two of our plan which is the implementation of wind generated power. It has been determined that to meet our power needs, and given our geographical location, we cannot just depend on one form of alternative energy. We intend to phase in different forms of technology as we can afford to do so and as according to which will fulfill our needs first. We will be doing a combination of solar, wind, and other alternative energy resources. Wind turbines was the first step as it will give us the most immediate benefit to begin with. Spring Farm CARES is located on nearly 200 acres of land. We have a lot of natural resources at our disposal. Wind being one of the obvious ones.
Our plan is for three 10kW Bergey wind turbines as pictured to the left. These are small residential turbines, much like the wind mills common in the last century all around the countryside. These are not windmills the size of which we see on commercial wind farms. The Bergey towers are 2 feet in diameter and ours will be 120 feet tall, with blades that are 10.5 ft. long. To put this into perspective, the windmills that are seen at commercial wind farms are 328 feet tall, 13.5 ft. in diameter, and the blades are 113 ft. long. We are talking about MUCH smaller windmills. As for how much sound they will make, the three wind turbines proposed for our site will be 46 decibels at 300 ft. away. The average household refrigerator is 50 decibels. The sounds of the wind turbines can not be distinguished from the ambient sounds around them. These windmills will be situated in one of our horse pastures on the east side of the farm.
Below is an aerial photo with red circles indicating the approximate proposed sites for the 3 wind turbines. The black lines indicate the property lines of our 49.5 acre parcel.
These three wind turbines will feed power to a series of batteries as well as to the grid. What electricity generated we don't use, gets fed directly into the grid system, thus helping the power company with the load of everyone else. If the grid goes down, the windmills will automatically stop feeding the grid and will allow us to use the electricity we generate to operate our basic needs. Should there be no wind, we will have approximately 48 hours of battery storage. We also plan to have a back up generator that would feed the batteries should the windmills not be functioning due to lack of wind. This will enable us to continue operating and servicing our most basic needs. It would also put us in a position to help others in need as well.
We understand that people have questions and concerns regarding a project like this. Any sort of change to new technology brings about a lot of questions and apprehension. Ironically, in many cases, alternative energy techniques are based on age old principles, and are not at all new. Windmills have been around for a very long time. This plan was not started on impulse or whim. Many hours of research and questioning by us has gone into this. We have the ultimate concern for the environment, our animals, and our community. Our buildings, animal facilities, residences, and the beauty of our farm are most impacted by these windmills by far. Questions of safety, environmental soundness, etc. are being considered every step of the way. We are at a critical time in our society. Some pretty hefty decisions must be made soon for our continued survival. There will always be trade offs that have to be made. Some have voiced concern that windmills are not natural to the landscape and will ruin our rural landscapes. Telephone poles, tall electric towers, and power lines are not natural to our landscape either yet we live with them daily, and they are far more dangerous to us and the environment than any windmill. A large electric power line project has been proposed to go through our area in Upstate New York to provide power for downstate New York. Residents, including ourselves, have large concerns about this plan. But we can't have it both ways. We can't expect to have unlimited power at our finger tips but not the conveyance of the power in our communities. We have a choice to make. We can look at power lines, live with the change in our pastoral views, the dangerous health threats, and loss of our property to imminent domain. Or we can look to a future of safer, cleaner, alternative energies to sustain us. Will it mean that we will have to learn to look at something other than power lines? Yes. Should we do so responsibly? Of course. Change will occur. It is up to us to decide just what that change will be. Already in New York State, they are saying that we soon can not meet our energy needs. We will need to do something. At Spring Farm CARES, we are trying to assure that the needs of the animals in our care will be met; that we can continue to employ the 26 people who work here; that we can be a resource center for our community in times of need; and that we can move forward in trying to lighten our load on this planet and to help in every way we can to help it to heal. That is where we are placing our energy and resources. The greener we go, the greener we'll stay.
How are we Funding this Project?
We are funding this project predominantly in two ways and in stages. The cost is steep to implement this project. It will pay for itself many years down the road but initially there is a large outlay of money. The first way we fund this is through grant money. New York State Energy Resources Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers grants that will hopefully fund part of the windmill project. There are 34 other states right now with similar incentive programs to try to encourage the development of alternative energy. This is new for New York State and right now the money available is less than other states, but it is a start. The more people and businesses that are not relying on the grid for support, the better for everyone.
The second way we are funding this is through money Spring Farm CARES has received in bequests that were ear marked for this project. Between the grants and bequests, we were able to move ahead with the wind power phase of the project. Not one penny comes out of the animal care and operational budget of the farm. We will only be able to move forward with additional phases as the money becomes available. We will move forward one step at a time.
WHAT ARE OUR FUTURE PLANS?
Once the wind power is up and running and we can get more funding for the next phase, we plan on turning our focus to solar power. Solar energy will enable us to also charge our battery bank and more importantly, it will give us a source to heat water. Solar power will be a boost, but we could not depend on solar as the primary source, for lack of sunny days, especially in the winter.
We also will be looking into and further researching alternative sources of heating. Right now we are dependant on oil for our heating needs.
And we will continue to be a resource to our community. We are already registered with our town and county as a resource for people.
And, of course, we do all of this so that we will be able to continue the work we are doing with not only the animals in our immediate care but for many others who, along with their people, are helped through our various other programs.
Links to References and Resources
We will continue to add links to material and references that we have found helpful. So if you are interested in alternative energy, check these out for helpful information.
Small Wind Factsheets
What is Small Wind?
How Much Noise Do Small Wind Systems Make?
Do Small Wind Systems Kill Birds?
What About Visual Impact?
Small Wind Systems and Public Safety
How Do Small Wind Systems Affect Property Values?
The Economics of Small Wind
Website for New York State Energy Resources Development Authority (NYSERDA)