My wife and I have a family size farm/ranch. Each of our five grown children often return and contribute to the operation and the farm on which they were raised. We live in the rolling hill farm country of Burt County, Nebraska where com and soybeans are king. We have seeded all of our farm ground to grass and hay. This land is used to raise 300 Hereford cattle and 100 American Quarter Horses.
In 2000 we received a SARE grant to develop a livestock watering system from natural springs. We packed tile lines in gravel through springs on the side hill. This water was piped down the hill to livestock water tanks. We have been using this system for twelve years. There is no energy cost and no moving parts to wear out. It should continue to provide fresh spring water for years to come with no pumping cost and it is relatively maintenance free.
Our goal was to produce renewable energy for our farm by using a small scale hydro-electric power unit.
The steps involved in conducting this project were to create a reservoir of water with a fall sufficient to power a turbine. Next we selected commercially available component parts such as generators, inverters, and irrigation pipe so we could repair at a later time if needed or any neighbor could order parts for their project.
We chose to connect to the utility grid so we would always have adequate energy available or we would have a market for excess energy we produced. This would also eliminate the need for equipment to store energy.
• Deb Ward, an employee of Nebraska Loess Hills Resource, Conservation and Development is a key member in developing agreements between the utility company and the producers. Deb Ward was instrumental in lobbying at the state level to get the utility company to agree to net metering. Previously the utility company would purchase locally produced electricity at wholesale prices. All energy used on the farm from the utility company was charged at retail prices. With net metering the farm essentially uses its own electricity and sells any excess produced at wholesale prices and purchases additional electricity at retail prices. Net metering is more cost effective for a small scale hydro-electric unit. Deb Ward with the Nebraska Loess Hills Resource, Conservation and Development cooperated on educational outreach.
• Andy Bohnenkamp from the Natural Resource Conservation Service did a stream flow test and determined the stream flow was about 500 gallons per minute. Andy surveyed the area and concluded I could have 20 to 26 feet of fall.
• Harold Hayes, Jr. a local contractor landscaped the pond to the proper height and with the proper drainage. An emergency spillway was constructed that is safely away from the road and the pipes. We have an attractive natural looking pond and everything else is buried out of sight. A pit was constructed of well-pit casing circular cement blocks. The pit that houses the generator and the inlet pipe are all buried six feet below the surface to provide year around frost-free service. The outlet was completed first to enable construction on dry ground.
• Gatzemeyer Welding constructed generator mounts and welded them to the 24-inch outlet tube. With experience from his irrigation pipe work, he attached plastic irrigation pipe to metal fittings that would accommodate a manifold to supply water to the generators.
• Ernie Glup Construction gave advice about size and quality of pipe required from irrigation, terrace, and pond work experience. I purchased 235 feet of 8-inch 80# pvc pipe and 20 feet of 24-inch road culvert from him that supplied the water from the pond to the generator and back to the creek.
• Sharp’s Welding, a contractor with a portable welder, attached a six foot extension on the pond overflow tube. The tube would raise the water level of the pond to increase the fall of the water that supplied the generator.
• John Dixon, electrical engineer- technical advice for connecting generated hydro-electric power to the existing power grid.
• Real Goods, a marketing agency, gave references and suggested the best design of equipment for my situation.
• Jim Petersen, John Wilson (University of Nebraska Extension Service)- cooperated on educational outreach.
• Tekamah Chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA) -educational outreach and hands-on installation of system and components.
• Center for Rural Affairs – Educational outreach and promotional publication in newsletters.
The results of this project were to reduce monthly energy costs. This can be measured by reduction of the utility bill of $125 per month.
The outcome of the educational portion of the project was better than I had anticipated. Visibility from the road and word of mouth spread the story of the project. Usually the discussion would end with a neighbor considering how he could adapt his landscape and situation for a similar cost savings.
If I were to do another educational project, I would do the same method again. I believe notification with the extension office, radio, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and energy development groups worked well. On-site observation and testimony from a neighbor carries influence.
From this grant I learned water has power and the power can be stored in a pond or reservoir. Additional benefits are protection from erosion, increased wildlife habitat and more recreational activities. This project affected our ranch operation by showing how renewable energy, erosion control, wildlife habitat, and recreation all work in harmony.
A specific advantage of this project is the hooking of our system to the utility grid. This way there is always adequate energy available and there is a use and a market for additional energy not required on the ranch.
The disadvantage of hooking to the grid is the monthly expense and added costs of safety equipment to protect others.
I would encourage all farmers and ranchers to produce renewable energy. The hydro-electric project is clean and environmentally friendly. Hooking to the grid or being self sufficient is a decision based on location and preference of energy required and economic situations on a case-by-case basis.
* Nebraska Loess Hills Resource, Conservation and Development
* Natural Resource Conservation Service
* University of Nebraska Extension Service
* Tekamah Chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA)
* Center for Rural Affairs
These organizations were instrumental in promoting the project: One of the most popular topics in this area is wind energy. Small scale hydro-electric projects can be infused at their meetings. These organizations can include information about our project in their newsletters. This was helpful to inform the community of the project and encouraging people to stop by and take a look. The best promotion came from neighbors and people just passing by who saw it from the road and asked about the work in progress. The one-on-one contact and word of mouth gossip spread the information the best.