Sustainable Energy for Sustainable Production

2006 Annual Report for FNC05-575

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $17,632.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:

Sustainable Energy for Sustainable Production


The cooperating producers seek to use wind/solar combination systems for water development and supplemental power for shop and home use. Data will be collected to evaluate the economic feasibility of a locally designed wind turbine system against systems already on the market, and community activities will be held to demonstrate the utility of hybrid systems.

Our progress on this project has been constrained by an increase in cost for many of the inputs, and by some unforeseen additional costs we didn’t account for in the additional estimation. The energy bill allowing for tax credits for installation of wind and solar systems has increased the cost for solar panels considerably; up to 30% more for some types of panels. The cost for other components increased as well; inverters, charge controllers; etc, and we have spent a considerable amount of time evaluating our options and seeking ways to reduce these costs. Site identification and preparation and available labor also contributed to a slower than expected “start-up” of this project, but we have made some progress. The following is a brief chronology of our efforts this past year.

May-October 2006: We purchased some components for assembly of the towers, and began researching alternatives for solar panels. We also contacted South Dakota State University researchers, the NREL, and other organizations to seek reduced cost alternatives for panels and turbine components.
[Editor’s note: NREL is the acronym for
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
1617 Cole Blvd.
Golden, CO 80401-3393
Phone: (303) 275-3000

We determined that we weren’t eligible for certain programs, such as the Council of Energy Resource Tribes program, as we are not a “tribal entity”. They are, however, very interested in assisting with the second phase of the project, in expanding the locally produced systems to communities and family units across the reservation.

We also determined that the cost for mini-turbines had increased to the point where we could no longer afford the 4-turbine systems, so we decided to purchase three Southwest Wind Power turbines for each of the commercial systems, and to try to come up with additional solar panels to make up the difference in output. On the locally produced system, we have all of the components for one turbine head, and now need to assemble and test this unit, then mount it on a tower at the buffalo ranch location.

After examining options for tower construction, including pre-assembled kits, we decided that we could most effectively use ‘used’ oil field pipe as the primary tower, welding on mounting points for cables and pivot bases for raising and lowering the towers for maintenance. The first supplier that we identified has been unable to secure and deliver the pipe as promised, so we are seeking a new supplier. In the mean time, we are using sections of other pipe and a refurbished radio tower to mount the turbines we have purchased.

Regarding the turbines purchased: Our initial design called for a 24 volt system for turbines and solar panels, and we purchased three turbines so configured. We then found a supplier of data storage inverters and storage batteries that represented a significant cost savings for these components, so we decided to buy three systems and additional batteries from this source. We then had to return the original turbines and re-order 48 volt systems. Even with the surcharge of returning the components, and the cost of transporting the batteries and inverters from Denver, we achieved a significant cost savings with this approach.

In the mean time, we used an old trailer/modular unit to create two of the battery ‘sheds’ needed for protecting the battery/inverter systems. An existing shed at Shawn Burke’s place is being refitted to accommodate the energy systems.

Two additional constraints became evident for the project at Shawn Burke’s place. First, the long-term drought we’ve been in has effectively terminated the existing well as a water source, and the increased energy costs overall has doubled the cost of drilling a new well—even exploratory. We are now looking at purchasing or renting a drilling system that uses a modified post hole digger to dig a deeper small bore well at this location and on range units at Bryan Deans’ cattle operation. Until the water situation is resolved, there is no opportunity to expand the goat herd and even with this the expansion will be diminished until we can identify a way to get additional forage without significant expense.

The other issue has been an unanticipated cost for permits. This county requires a conditional use permit for any type of radio or energy production tower, so I’ve had to spend $320.00 to go through the review process. The permit has been approved, but unfortunately I’ll need to get a new permit to expand the system if I wish to in the future.

Through all of this, we have managed to accomplish some of the public education aspects of this project. At an event hosted by a collaborative effort of federal agencies and SDSU [South Dakota State University] Extension, we were able to demonstrate the original turbine concept, using disk rotors, magnets and resin, and a more recent research activity into a system using alternators with circular magnets, to essentially eliminate the turbidity associated with the original design. The cost of these should also be cheaper, depending on sources for magnets. Hopefully, we’ll be able to place the old and new design in the same location with meters to demonstrate the power output and cost effectiveness of each.

We’ve shared information informally with neighbors of Bryan Deans’ on our project, and to the group of approximately 11 producers and agency representatives at the tour of Henry Red Cloud’s solar heater facility.

The other field days are on target per our initial proposal. [Editor's note: Three field days were proposed at the turbine locations: one early in the project, and two towards the end of the projects.]

Research results have been limited due to constraints for acquiring the components as noted above. Thus far, our primary lessons have been in the complexity of putting together these systems in a cost effective manner.

Because of the water availability and a period of illness, I’ve been unable to set up the towers on my place thus far. Given winter weather, I’m now planning to get the small bore well drilled later in the spring, and assemble the towers and panel system in July 2007. In the mean time, we will get the towers assembled and running at both other locations, and plan to have at least one of the solar panel systems in place in time for a May-June workshop. We won’t be purchasing the solar panels until we’ve determined whether a lower-cost option we’re evaluating will work or not; we should know this by the end of February 2007.

We will have material on the local turbines at another workshop in January, and should have one of the producer education workshops on-site in June. The other workshop will be held in September/October at my place. We hope to have data on cost savings for the different systems from all three locations by next November, and we’ll be seeking some type of funding for expanding the local production options by sometime next fall.