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Spend to Save

March 7, 2012


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.


This mill is located high up on a hill in the small village of Ventebren in the Provence region of France. Used to press olives for oil, it has been in operation for centuries.

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.

Source: NREL

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.

Check it out!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. ttoes permalink
    March 7, 2012 9:04 am

    I came to your site because you “liked” my other blog ( What should I find but this post with a photo of Left Coast Cellars solar array. Our (extremely) small vineyard and farm is located about 10 miles from Left Coast. Our solar system makes sense only because of incentives that pay back about 90% of our investment over 6 years. We remain attached to the grid in order to receive the incentives. In three more years we will have the option to leave the grid once all the incentives have been received. We also have investigated wind since our wind profile is also favorable. However, without incentives for wind energy, we cannot get it to pencil out. If investigating wind, I would strongly recommend looking at vertical wind turbines and in particular those with mag-lev bearings. Verticals have three major advantages: they can be mounted lower allowing for far less cost/disruption to keep them maintained (all rotating machinery requires regular maintenance); they can be sited much more readily because of the lack of height/need for guy wires/etc. and, they do not require a pure undisturbed wind path to have efficient production.
    There is a brief description of our solar system at our website –
    I will check out the rest of your site.


    • March 7, 2012 5:05 pm

      Thanks Tom. That was helpful info. My husband and I visited Left Coast Winery when we were out there last March. We will be moving out there in about 18 months and I am sure we will visit with you, as Graham is, as we affectionately call it, a wino. Because of the topography here, wind does not seem to be a viable option for most of the small farms but your suggestion is excellent for anyone considering it.

  2. March 7, 2012 11:36 am

    In our area you don’t have to go far to see thousands of wind towers across ridges. A bit different than one or two mills around for pumping water or grinding. When considering power resources, solar isn’t quite as intrusive.

    • March 7, 2012 5:06 pm

      The visual disturbance is part of the argument here. The West Virginian mountains are so beautiful and we do not have a lot of strong wind zones here in the first place anyway. Solar can provide a lot of what a small farm needs so it makes a lot of sense.

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