Sun Jun 13th, 2010 at 04:54:36 AM EST
A month ago, in a discussion about wind power and its potential usefulness for farmers, I said I'd report on a farmer I know who has a windmill.
So here's the huge beast, on a ridge overlooking the plain, open to the westerlies and to the Autan, the south-easterly that comes in from the Mediterranean about 120 km away. This is in hilly but good wheat-growing land about 40 km south-east of Toulouse. If the windmill looks like something rigged up by a DIY enthusiast, it almost is (but not quite). There's a little story attached.
In the Wind series.
Yvon, the farmer, and his brother-in-law, farm over 80 hectares, producing wheat, rapeseed, sunflower, pulses, and raising beef cattle. Yvon chose to go in for organic farming about ten years ago, not as a question of principle, but for economic reasons. Reading the tea leaves, he foresaw declining prices for "conventional" wheat and beef, meaning that the farm would have to continually expand to gain economies of scale, or gradually go bankrupt. Organic offered better prices and less subjection to international markets, since he could sell all or part of his produce locally, even directly to consumers. He could also add value by partly transforming the produce: from wheat, he could mill flour; from rape and sunflower, press oil. This would require energy to work a mill and a press. The extra electricity needed for his plans had to be renewably produced on the spot. A windmill would be a great idea, since it would be a local talking point and would help define an image, at the same time as producing electricity.
So some years back, he found a French firm that would install their own build of small windmill. It was a disaster from the start. The firm was overwhelmed by demand and took orders all the same, resulting in shoddy workmanship, no after-sales service, and, finally, a jump through the hoop that deprived Yvon of both service and the guarantee on the equipment. A rotor dropped off. An inverter (one out of three) conked out.
A German neighbour had bought the same windmill at the same time, and his fell apart too. Yvon bought it from him for spare parts to fix his own mill, except for the inverter, which had to be bought new at €3,500. (The German neighbour swore off French suppliers and got a mill from Aircon, which he now represents for Southern France). Yvon, meanwhile, got his windmill working.
OK, this is laughable compared to the Megas we hear about here. The windmill's capacity is 7.5 kW. Annual production is around 10,000 kWh, which is roughly what the farm and household together consume. There is no feed-in tariff, but Yvon has an obligatory buy-back contract with EDF at parity with the rate he pays as a consumer. The total investment stands at about €30,000, on which he got a tax credit of €8,000. No problem amortising this over twenty years. Yvon's DIY talents and his stock of spare parts will see him through that time -- as long as the inverters don't crash and cause added costs.
His business as a miller is doing well. Here's the current flour mill. In the foreground the flour is sifted after being ground up above.
This is too small to deal with demand, so Yvon is building a bigger mill:
If anyone wants a millstone for neck purposes, here's one that's waiting to be mounted on the new mill:
Here's the press, working on sunflower seed. The seed comes down from a hopper above, the oil flows out through the pipe, the oilcake is ejected on the far side. The press is Chinese, welded on to a frame by Yvon.
All the produce (including the beef, only part of which is directly sold to consumers, the rest going to a cooperative) is labelled AB, the official French organic label (equivalent to the EU's organic label).