Oswego County farmers turn to wind energy

Authority’s wind power program received 60 wind farm applications and 19 were from farms. In a little more than a year from October 2010 to December 2011, there were 65 wind turbines applications.

Three years ago, town of Oswego onion farmer Nick Gianetto called consultant Jeff Wallace with a question. “He wondered what it would take to put wind turbines here on his farm,” said Wallace, an Oswego town resident and consultant with both Pyrus Energy and New York Bold onions.

Now — studies and applications and grant proposals behind them — a 147-foot-tall wind turbine is generating electricity for the grading and packing area of Gianetto’s onion farm on County Route 7.

That was the beginning. Wallace said Pyrus will install wind turbines at two other onion farms in the near future and solar energy panels at another — all in Oswego County. “I’ve always admired their cutting-edge thinking in technology,” Wallace said of the farmers.

More and more farmers in New York state are using renewable energy to help power their farms. Alan Wechsler of the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) said in the three and a half years from 2007 to mid-2010, the authority’s wind turbine program received 60 wind farm applications and 19 were from farms. In a little more than a year from October 2010 to December 2011, there were 65 applications and 35 of them came from farms.

Wechsler said of the 35 farm applications, most were from Central and Western New York.

Pyrus Energy, of Weedsport, is a two-year-old company specializing in all types of renewable energy sources, from solar power and wind power to geothermal energy and solar thermal hot water and hydroelectric. It deals primarily with farms, homes and small businesses.

The company is helping Gianetto and the Dan Dunsmoor farm in Oswego and John Dunsmoor farm in Scriba harness the wind coming off nearby Lake Ontario. Gianetto uses about 26,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year to run the conveyors and machines in his packing and grading barn.

If Gianetto had had the turbine in 2010, he figures it would have saved him about $3,800 in electricity to operate the barn for the year.

Wallace said Gianetto’s project cost about $130,000, but nearly 80 percent of it is covered by grants. He said Gianetto’s payback for his out-of-pocket costs will take about 3½ years.

Gianetto hopes to generate enough electricity with the turbine to cover just about all his farm’s electric needs.

Wallace worked with Gianetto to do the studies and fill out the applications for the grants. A wind study done at Gianetto’s site showed an average wind speed of about 12 mph, helping him secure a grant of about $53,000 from NYSERDA.

Wallace said Gianetto also received a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development because he runs a farm in an agricultural district. He also is eligible for a one-time payment in lieu of a tax credit from the federal government and is applying for a National Grid agribusiness grant.

In addition, the wind turbine will become a money generator for Gianetto. Wallace said that for every 1,000 kilowatt hours generated, Gianetto receives a Renewable Energy Certificate, much like a stock certificate. These are valued now at about $200 to $250 each.

“Large companies buy up these RECs, so that is the revenue-generating aspect of this,” Wallace said. “And if he doesn’t use all the power he generates, he can sell that power back to National Grid.”

As a consultant for Pyrus, Wallace finds projects for the company to pursue and then completes the research and grant applications for the clients.

Gianetto said he never would have had the time to do all that work on his own while trying to plant, grow and harvest a crop.

“Good things take time,” he said. “But this is going to be all right. The next generation will benefit from this.”

The turbine installed on Gianetto’s farm is a bit different from others commonly seen. This one has a hydraulic system near the base so it can be lowered for maintenance.

It was manufactured by ReDriven, a company in Iroquois, Ontario, Canada, a small town on the St. Lawrence River. The company can adjust the turbine daily through wireless connections hooked up through Gianetto’s computer at the farm.

Pyrus Energy is one of a group of businesses owned by the Marshall Family. James Marshall, a third-generation Weedsport resident, said the family has run ENV Energy, selling gas, propane and heating oil, since 1913.

“Three years ago, we began looking at alternative energy for ourselves,” Marshall said. Then he and other family members decided to start a renewable energy company of their own.

Marshall is thrilled to have the company’s first turbine up and running in Oswego County. Pyrus has installed other turbines throughout the state, from the Hudson Valley to Jefferson County to Chemung County to Buffalo.

“Farmers probably have the most to gain with renewables,” he said. “It makes sense for the farmers and we can help pick the right resource and product for them.”

Gianetto said his wind turbine has sparked interest in wind power from others in the town of Oswego. While Gianetto was cleared to put up his turbine because he is an agricultural business, Wallace said he worked with town of Oswego officials to come up with a town wind power policy.

Contact Debra J. Groom, www.syracuse.com