Friday, July 20, 2012

Power Encounter

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

I went for a stroll this morning.  I walked up the hill to the Northlands Job Corps School.  The school's campus and location are exceptionally beautiful, so I took my camera.    The location is at the crest of a hill that provides views of the distant Adirondack mountains in New York, and of some of the nearer mountains in Vermont.  The school was formerly the Weeks Schook -- a reformatory and orphanage.

When I got there, I saw something new; a wind generator sitting at the top of the hill.

I walked closer, and soon saw a bunch of men standing around at the base of the tower.  They didn't appear to be doing anything, just talking.  I went up to join them.

I learned that the men were local farmers, and they were being given the cook's tour and explanation of the wind generator by the project manager.  There is money left over from the grant to build two more such wind generators, and local farms are likely places for the sites.

This wind generator has a peak capacity of 100 kw.  It is hoped to average 20% capacity factor over a whole year.  Most wind on that site occurs in winter.   20% is pretty good.   One farmer asked about the cost of wind power compared to conventional sources.  The project manager got a pained look on his face and didn't answer.  Clearly, the motivation was not money.

Then I learned that one of the farmers runs the  Blue Spruce dairy farm nearby.  He has 1000 cows.  He also is a power generator.  He installed a digester to make methane, and the methane gas runs engines that drive generators to make electric power.   He told me that he can make up to 480 kw which is pretty good.

I asked about the investment.  He said that they initially invested $1.3 million.  That paid for itself, so he expanded it with an additional $1.7 million.  He started 7 years ago.   I tried doing the math (see below).   He also mentioned, that after digesting, the manure he spreads is odor free.  That's a big positive factor.  

The math: 480 kw is worth about $24/hour wholesale, or about $72/hour retail.  If that power level is maintained 70% of the time for a whole year, the value of the power produced is $441,504.  The payback time for a $3 million investment at zero % interest is 6.8 years.  Not bad.   If he gets a 30% government subsidy on operations, his payback time is reduced to 5 years.

Down in West Charlton, NY, where we lived before cruising, a local farmer (Mr. Wood) has more than 1000 cows.  His cows produce prodigious amounts of manure and he spreads it all around the area.  Libby and I are thoroughly familiar with the odors.  If I were still living there, I'd be tempted to consult with Farmer Wood to put in a similar digestion system there.


  1. There are all kinds of hazards with using manure as fertilizer. the big problem is what are they feeding the cows, are they giving them steroids, fish products. Does the digester remove all contaminants before spreading on the ground. What are the chances of ecoli bacteria getting into the food we are now growing? We're only at the beginning stages of really understanding green farming. We don't believe in pesticides or herbicides. So glad to see that farmers are at least trying to go green with the wind generators.

  2. By reputation at least, Vermont dairy farmers seem to be the world leaders in being green.


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