Greene County Farm Harvests the Wind

9/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Laura Zoeller Southwestern Pa. Correspondent

GERARD’S FORT, Pa. — On nearly 100 acres in the hills of Greene County sits a different kind of farm.

Owned by Jan and Barbara Broxterman, Cross Winds farm is all about sustainability and efficiency. For those reasons, Andalusian Horses and Lowline cattle grace the fields, and a wind turbine and solar pump help create the energy to make it all work.

“When I was in college, the environmental movement was really beginning to heat up,” Barb Broxterman said. “I became interested in doing my part and even changed my major from pre-vet to agricultural engineering. When Jan and I had the opportunity to move to this area and begin a farm here, we did so with the long-term health of the environment in mind.”

That is the reasoning behind the breeds they chose to work with.

“Lowline cattle are considered one of the most efficient cows because of their ability to finish out solely on grass,” Broxterman said. “Our cows never get grain, yet have excellent marbling, high carcass values and average a higher percentage of beef at market due to their short legs.

“Likewise, Andalusians — which are the oldest breed of horses and the one from which most other horses are believed to have originated from — are efficient because they are an all-around horse. They are able to be used for working cows, trail rides, and have a little more get-up-and-go’ than many other breeds,” she said.

Efficiency and sustainability were also paramount in the decision to add wind and solar energy to the farm.

“I wanted to participate in energy conservation,” Broxterman said. “Not only does it save money, but it also provides a legacy for our children in how to work with the environment instead of just taking from it all the time. We decided to check into the feasibility of a wind turbine.”

Over a year in preparation time was spent before the Broxtermans decided to implement the turbine.

“We installed an anemometer,” Broxterman said, “which is a device that determines wind speed. Each day we had to record the average and high wind speed to make sure that there was enough wind to make the turbine efficient.

“We determined that we needed an average of 6-8 mph to make it economical to install,” she said. “In winter, the higher winds produced excess of that requirement, but in summer, it made less. We decided that it would average out to meet our needs.”

The Broxtermans found that their energy supplier would buy back any excess power they generated, so they had their 33-foot tall turbine connected to the grid.

“It is like a bank account,” Broxterman said. “Excess power can be stored in limitless amounts, and a credit is issued to us on our electric bill. When there is less power being made, we can draw from that credit and not have to pay for all of the power we have used. On average, we generate 30 percent of the power that we use to power our farm, including the outbuildings and water systems, and that percentage met our expectations.”

The cost of the turbine was around $18,000, but federal tax incentives helped defray some of those costs.

“We were fortunate that those incentives were around at that time,” Broxterman said. “It made the initial costs more manageable, although the cost has gone down some in the past few years.

“We expect that at our current production rate that the turbine will have paid for itself in 12 to 15 years. Had we gone with the 45-foot tall mast, it would have been closer to 10 years, but regardless, since the costs of energy are ever-increasing, it is still helping to maintain our costs over the long term.”

In addition to the wind energy, Cross Winds Farm has a solar pumping system for water.

“We found some used solar panels and batteries on eBay,” Broxterman said with a laugh. “Jan built a stand for them and we pieced together a portable system where we can fill a tank from the small pond on our farm and transport the tank wherever we need water. The portability makes it very efficient for our uses.”

Broxterman hopes to see more people invest in alternative energies as the information becomes more widely available.

“There is a lot of information online about solar and wind systems now,” Broxterman said. “And I definitely recommend arming yourself with as much as possible.

“Don’t just jump in to putting up a turbine,” she said. “Study your area. Learn about your wind. Have a specialist come out and talk with you. It is a long-term commitment and needs to be well thought out. But I believe it is one more people should consider, helping ensure both a plentiful energy supply and a healthy environment in the future.”

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