Dec 18, 2013 Joe Genco Uncategorized
The Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program held its annual meeting on Dec. 9 at the First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles.
The event included an annual report from Mark Burger, the Onondaga County Soil and Water District executive director, a panel on renewable energy and the presentation of the 2013 Environmental Steward Award to Mike McMahon of E-Z Acres farm in Homer.
Burger spoke about the activities and projects of the agricultural program from the past year including assisting farms with stream bed stabilization, crop diversions and helping write grants for grazing manure and soil management projects.
The soil and water district wrote $148,785 in grants money this year, Burger said.
The agricultural program is a voluntary program for farms in the Skaneateles Lake watershed. The stated purpose of the program is to assist and provide resources to farms, particularly to help them prevent soil erosion and keep pollutants out of the lake. Forty-two of 52 farms in the watershed participate, while an additional four self-implement the program’s standards.
A number of local farmers each gave a short presentation and took questions from the audience on different types of renewable energy options that are available to farms in the area.
Dirk Young, of Twin Birch Dairy in Skaneateles, and Bill Head, who owns a dairy farm near Homer, both spoke about their anaerobic digesters. The digester is a system that further breaks down manure, which is rich in methane gas, to produce biofuel which can be burned in a micro-turbine to generate electricity.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s just a continuation of the cow’s stomach,” Young said. “When she expels it there is still a lot of energy left in that manure.”
Both Young and Head said that using the digester systems helps them to be a better neighbor because it cuts down on odors from manure.
When the turbines generate more electricity than the farm needs, the power is sold back to the grid. However, this isn’t the money-making venture that one would expect, the men said.
Energy producers in New York receive 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour, while neighboring states’ utility companies pay 16 to 24 cents, Head said. National Grid also charges a “demand charge” for taking power off of the property, rather than onto it.
Ryan Stork, of CEC Energy, spoke about the work his company does with micro-hydro energy generators. A micro-hydro system consists of a turbine powered by water diverted from a stream with a considerable elevation change or water flow. Unlike bigger hydroelectric systems, which involve dams, micro-hydro systems operate on a smaller scale with no dams, Stork said.
Peter Mapstone, of Pastureland Dairy in Manlius, and Kim Brayman, of Fesko Farms in Spafford, spoke about their solar energy systems.
Mapstone said he likes solar panels because they have no moving parts, produce no waste and require almost no maintenance. Pastureland also has been unable to make money by selling power back to National Grid due to demand metering, though selling renewable energy certificates, or green credits, are helping them repay their initial investment of $305,000, Mapstone said
Fesko Farms had 1,045 individual solar modules installed on the ground this year. Though they have yet to get up and running, they are estimated to produce 358,000 kilowatt hours per year, Brayman said.
Ed Doody and Mark Tucker both spoke about their wind turbines. Doody, who operates a dairy farm in Otisco, said that the town’s lack of zoning laws made putting up his turbine easy. The turbine, which stands 140 feet tall, produces two thirds of the power for the farm and the savings will have paid for the initial investment in about five years due to grant funding covering 40 percent of the initial cost, Doody said.
Tucker, whose farm is in Skaneateles, said that he had studied the town’s zoning laws as a member of the town planning board and found that the community would only be OK with turbines of a certain height. At 120 feet, his turbine is within the town’s limits and is able to take advantage of the high winds on his property.
The turbine generates all of the farm’s power annually and will be paid back in savings after about seven or eight years, Tucker said.
Erin Luchsinger Hull, of Cornell Cooperative Extension, presented on high-efficiency LED light fixtures. Though more expensive to buy and install, LEDs are 80 percent efficient, operate well in the cold and have a long life compared to other types of fixtures, making them a smart choice and a money saver, Luchsinger Hull said.
Nearly all of the farmers mentioned that the initial investment for their systems was greatly reduced due to grants offered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Though New York’s utility companies don’t offer the high sell-back rates of other states, programs like NYSERDA make New York a leader in renewable energy funding, Stork said, who also presented on funding options for renewable energy.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.