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Distributed Wind Energy: The New Cash Crop

With so many day-to-day concerns vying for attention, many farmers may not have the time to stop and research alternative ways to address their energy needs and rising utility costs. While having heard that renewable energies, such as solar or wind energy, are becoming increasingly popular, there does not seem to be a way for them to reap the benefits without a significant amount of capital available. However, due to advancements in technology and market availability due to new leasing models, distributed generation is changing the way farmers gain access to and manage their cost of power.

While many people are familiar with distributed solar energy (such as installing solar panels on your rooftop), distributed wind is becoming a new option for property owners. Unlike a traditional utility-scale wind farm, distributed wind is the use of smaller, on-site wind turbines for a home or business owner’s personal power supply. Established wind companies are now bringing distributed wind to the masses by providing a turbine leasing solution to farmers looking to benefit from predictable and affordable energy.

So how exactly can farmers take advantage of this new “cash crop?”

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

Innovations in wind turbine technology have helped fuel growth in the industry for many years. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the average price of U.S. wind power has declined by 43 percent since 2009. As a result, distributed wind is just beginning to take off as a viable alternative for farmers, small businesses, and residents in more rural areas. This recent uptick is due in large part to new leasing models becoming available to businesses and property owners — negating the historical need for the sizeable capital investment that comes with owning a turbine.

Distributed wind companies are beginning to serve this previously overlooked customer base by offering farmers and agricultural businesses stability and predictability when it comes to their utility bills. With the knowledge that their utility bills will be predictable every month, farmers now have a hedge against inflation and the flexibility to direct more money back into their business, spurring organic growth rather than just keeping the lights on.

Historically, if farmers were interested in switching to wind energy, an initial capital investment of tens of thousands of dollars was needed for the outright purchase of a turbine. With new long-term leasing options now available and eliminating those high upfront costs, distributed wind is becoming a realistic alternative energy option for farmers nationwide.

Prior Concerns Are Disappearing into Thin Air

Along with guaranteeing predictable energy production, distributed wind companies are taking the hassle out of wind project development, including taking care of the paperwork and permitting process, which has been a deterrent for potential owners up until this point. Farmers can now keep focused on day-to-day operational matters with the comfort of knowing that their energy supplier is handling these tedious and time-consuming processes.

Distributed wind providers are also working with local contractors and government entities to ensure the installation of turbines runs smoothly and efficiently, with minimal disruption to a farm’s operations. Some wind companies are even offering ongoing maintenance services to monitor performance and safety of the wind turbines, and customers are guaranteed these services throughout a 20-year lease period.

The Process

United Wind's leasing process begins with an evaluation in which the customer shares a brief history of their utility bill in order to realize how much they will save by going with distributed wind. The customer then receives a custom WindQuote which includes a full wind analysis and personalized leasing options. Lastly, the installation process begins.

As for pricing, customers are able to score a $0 down lease in New York State due to strong incentives from NYSERDA. A few other states also fall into this category, as well. The customer can opt to prepay a portion or the entirety of their lease for even greater savings over time. We find that even with the $0 down option, many clients have opted to prepay in order to reap these additional benefits.  

Assuming the customer did not full prepay their lease, a monthly lease payment can vary greatly, but generally runs between $100-$1,000 depending on turbine selection, amount prepaid (if any), and their wind resource. Fully prepaying a lease would be a fraction of the cost of an outright purchase of a machine. Not to mention that a fully prepaid lease can come with a 20-year production guarantee, warranty, maintenance, and insurance.  

In order to stand behind the machines with a production guarantee, warranty, insurance, and maintenance for 20 years, we work with only the best products in the industry, for example Bergey Wind Power's Excel 10-kW turbine and Endurance Wind Power's E-3120 50-kW turbine. Similarly, the company chooses to work with only the top local installers in the areas where the turbines are being erected, such as CEC (Casenovia Equipment Company) Energy and SED  (Sustainable Energy Developments).

Wind-Win Situation

In addition to changes in financing options, technology has evolved over the last few years to address and dispel former logistical concerns, namely:

  • Access to wind: Wind is an unlimited resource. While we all have access to it, research has found that an average wind speed of just 10 MPH provides a great starting point for wind energy collection.
  • Access to land: While land is not always readily available, it does not take a lot to accommodate smaller wind turbines, with a general recommendation of three acres or more for proper siting, installation, and unobstructed wind flow.

Bottom line, distributed wind energy is becoming more accessible, more desirable, and more financially viable than ever before, particularly for the agricultural market. With barriers to adoption blowing away, this efficient and cost effective means of powering our nation’s farms has a bright future.

Lead image: Wind turbine field via Shutterstock

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Volume 18, Issue 4


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