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Farmer committed to renewable energy

Staff writer

Herb Bartel has a pair of dedicated assistants at his rural Hillsboro farm: Ra works from sunrise to sunset, every day of the year. Ra’s coworker, Mariah, doesn’t even take that much time off.

That is because they are a pair of renewable energy sources. “Ra” is a solar electricity array, nicknamed after the sun god of ancient Egypt, and “Mariah” is a 45-foot tall wind power turbine.

He had the wind turbine installed more than two years ago. The solar panels were installed about 11 months ago.

“All of our electricity requirements are met with renewable energy,” Bartel said.

With the solar and wind power, his farm is actually a net producer of electricity.

“There have been many months where we’ve put in 400 kilowatt-hours over what we’ve used,” he said.

Kansas Farmers Union will have an alternative energy and grass-finished beef tour Thursday at the Bartel farm.

“I feel strongly that every farm should have 10 kilowatts of wind or solar generation,” he said.

Bartel sees reasons for his commitment to renewable energy.

“It’s a commitment to the health and safety of living things,” he said. “That includes us.”

He said he has noticed weather patterns shifting toward extremes in recent years. His farm received a pair of 6-inch rains last year, and this year there hasn’t been any runoff.

“We’re at the beginning stages of a drought,” he said.

With that in mind, he sees renewable energy sources as the best way to prevent those extremes.

And renewable energy simply makes good economic sense, he said. There is a limited supply of fossil fuels, but when they’re gone, we will still need energy for economic prosperity. Furthermore, wind power has a long history on the plains of Kansas.

“The whole west was made possible by wind power,” Bartel said. “There was no electricity to run (water) pumps.”

Right next to a meter that shows how much electricity Ra is producing at any time is an old water pump, which was powered by a windmill until the blades broke.

Bartel said Ra is more productive than Mariah, but that is mostly because Mariah is on a fairly short tower. A taller tower would have required a crane to install.

Counter intuitively, Ra works best during the winter, because its circuitry works best in cool temperatures. On a typical summer day, it will produce about 2,000 watts, but one day during the winter, it was producing 2,385 watts.

Mariah works best when the wind is out of the south or north. If wind is too strong, it shuts down to prevent damage, Bartel said.

Even his grass-fed beef strategies are part of his energy-saving philosophy. By feeding cattle in pastures, diesel isn’t being used to grow crops and ship them to feed lots, he said. Jason Schmidt of Elbing helps him with the grass-fed beef.

The alternative energy and grass-finished beef tour begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bartel farm, 1220 220th Road, rural Hillsboro. The tour is free and open to the public.

Last modified July 6, 2011

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