A real windfall: John F. Tucker & Sons farm in Skaneateles feeling benefits of wind turbine
John F. Tucker & Sons farm in Skaneateles uses a 158.8-foot-high, 50-kilowatt wind turbine to supply electricity to the dairy farm and two homes on the property. (Jonathan Monfiletto, The Journal)
SKANEATELES — Standing on the property of the John F. Tucker & Sons farm on a sunny, cool, breezy day, one can see why Mark Tucker chose to use a windmill to power his family’s farm.
Measuring a total of 158.8 feet with a 120-foot tower and 33-foot blades, the 50-kilowatt wind turbine supplies electricity for the dairy farm that consists of 135 cows and 95 calves and its crop drying system, as well as Tucker’s home and his parents’ home that both sit on the farm property.
“We have a lot of wind here. That’s one reason I decided to go with it up here,” Tucker said of the turbine installed on the farm in 2012. As he spoke, the sound of wind chimes signal a steady wind being used to generate power. “There’s a lot of wind up here all the time, so I just thought it’d be a nice idea.”
After deciding to implement alternative energy on the family farm, Tucker said the family initially looked at solar panels, but that installation would have cost $100,000 more than a windmill to produce the same amount of electricity.
The family then looked at windmills through two different companies and eventually chose an Endurance model turbine through Earth Wind & Solar Energy based on the cost, reliability and maintenance of the structure.
The company actually went bankrupt, Tucker said, so the family has had to put more money in the maintenance of its windmill by hiring another company to do the work. Otherwise, he said he expects the turbine — which produces around 76,000 kilowatts of electricity each year — to pay for itself in about eight to nine years, instead of the original six to seven years.
Tucker noted that he does not maintain the windmill himself but has thought about ascending it anyway to get a look from above the farm.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever climb it or not. I always wanted to climb it,” he said, noting the top of the crop drying system that he climbs regularly provides a “nice view” of the whole town and Skaneateles Lake.
Tucker said the turbine has an anemometer on top of the structure to measure the wind speed and direction to tell the turbine when to start up, when to shut down and what direction to automatically turn to in order to generate power.
He said the windmill will shut down when wind speeds reach the high 50-mph range, while it takes a steady wind of about 8 mph for the turbine to start up and produce electricity.
“It starts itself using power off the line,” he said. “When it gets running, then it kicks out and starts generating.”
In terms of the benefits the windmill provides the farm, “it’s nice to cover our own power,” Tucker said, especially with National Grid likely going to raise its rates in the future.
He said the turbine produces enough electricity for the farm to cover all of its power bills for all but two months of the year and then supplement energy costs in July and August.
“It doesn’t completely cover the whole thing. We’re running the whole farm plus the two houses here on it,” he said, noting that there is not as much wind in July and August. “That’s the two months that it doesn’t cover the bills completely. It just supplements them.”
Tucker said the farm typically consumes about $11,000 per year in electricity — “It’s a fair amount, not a huge thing,” he said. “It’s not a lot of power compared to some places.” — and most of that consumption comes in the fall when the farm is constantly operating the crop drying system.
“I figured we’d have a bill,” Tucker said. “We never have a bill in the fall because it (the windmill) seems to produce enough by fall that it covers the drying mill running 24/7 for a couple of weeks. We use a lot of power there.”
Noting that one needs to be in a place that receives a lot of wind in order to make good use of a windmill, Tucker said there are not distinct advantages between wind and solar as alternative energy sources.
Though he heard wind power is more efficient than solar power, he said both windmills and solar panels have the ability to produce electricity virtually year-round. While solar panels wear out after some time, windmills do as well.
For the family farm, Tucker said the two main factors in choosing wind over solar came in the cost and the fact that windmills take up less land than solar panels.
“They each have their advantages, really,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s much advantage to one or the other to be honest.”
For his fellow farms who may be considering alternative energy, Tucker said they need to look at the costs — both the initial costs and how long it takes to cover that amount — as well as see what the maintenance is going to be like and see how reliable the companies are that offer alternative technology.
For the people who want to stop by during an upcoming alternative energy tour on which the farm is featured, he noted they can have an up-close look at the windmill after perhaps gazing at it from a distance in the past.
“A lot of people stop along the road here and look down across and look at it from Coon Hill or Rickard (roads) here,” Tucker said.