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Developed in Asia in the 7th Century, windmills became a popular way to harness the energy of the wind. The concept spread throughout Europe and finally into the United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Used to grind grain, pump water and other many agricultural and industrial uses, wind energy has become a focus for an alternative source to produce our ever growing demand for electricity.
Wind farms in other areas of the country are beginning to provide a reliable source of alternative energy but issues within West Virginia may not make wind a viable resource.
What can this mean to farmers in West Virginia? Matt Sherald of PIMBY (Power in My Back Yard) was one of the 29 vendors who had booths at the Small Farm Conference in Morgantown March 1-3. Matt explained that the best location is along a ridge line and several power utilities are investigating areas in the eastern part of the state. The purple areas have steady winds of the right speed.
To install a wind turbine you need clear views to the west and northwest and the tower must be at least 30 feet taller than everything else within 500 feet. Most towers are between 80 and 120 feet tall but many in wind farms are taller than that. The ridgelines in West Virginia have had some interest by developers but considerable grassroots protest have slowed down proposed development beyond the one that has been partially built.
Both Matt Sherald of PIMBY and Brian Caudill of mtvSolar believe that solar power offers a tremendous advantage to small farmers in West Virginia. New technology has resulted in solar panels that do not need bright sunlight to generate power.
Left Coast Winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon has been so sucessful with its solar panels that they continue to develop additional ways to promote sustainable farming practices. The 21kW ground-mounted solar panel by the Latitude 45 vineyard provide 100 percent of the power for the guest cottage, front gate, and all the estate irrigation needs of the vineyards and extensive landscaping. In the winery, the 62kW roof-mounted solar installation generates the vast majority of the electricity. Their experience has been so successful that the huge King Estate Winery has also added its own solar array.
Solar panels generally have a warranty of 25 years but usually have a 40-50 year service life. If installed on a roof, they can easily be removed and re-installed for replacement of roofing material. Federal and State tax credits help offset the cost with commercial tax credit rates higher than residential rates. Brian explained that the excess power generated by the solar panels during the day does not get stored onsite but goes on through the lines to the power grid. What the owner sees is the electric meter running backwards, so at night, when connection to the grid provides electricity generated elsewhere, the service equation typically is highly beneficial.
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