MAESTRO has producers singing a happy tune
By Doug Rich
There is nothing musical about MAESTRO, but it is sweet music to the ears of producers like Wayne Hentges who are enjoying lower energy bills.
MAESTRO, which stand for Missouri Agricultural Energy Saving Team--A Revolutionary Opportunity, is a joint project by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri Extension and is funded by a $5 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. In 2010 the Missouri Department of Agriculture developed the concept that became MAESTRO and applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and identified the University of Missouri and EnSave, Inc., as partners.
Sam Orr, project coordinator for MAESTRO at the University of Missouri, said this program falls under the umbrella of the Better Buildings Neighborhood at DOE.
"The thing that is unique about our project is that while the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program nationally has 41 projects, ours is the only one that is looking at agricultural buildings and agricultural operations," Orr said.
Jon Hagler, Ph.D., director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said they had no idea when they applied for the grant that they would be the only agricultural-based proposal.
Hentges, Tipton, Mo., was one of the first producers to sign up for MAESTRO. The energy audit of the farm begins with a telephone interview. This is followed by an on-farm visit that allows engineers to estimate the energy savings and potential payback. Orr said qualified projects must be able to save a minimum of 15 percent on their energy bills.
"In the beginning we partnered with a company out of Vermont called EnSave to do the energy audits," Orr said. "They have been working on dairy farm energy efficiency for nearly 20 years. We are taking what they have developed for dairy energy efficiency analysis and expanding it to poultry, swine, and beef production."
Once they qualify, individual farms have access to financial incentives to help them make upgrades to their facilities. These incentives include 75 percent implementation grants up to a maximum of $12,000 per farm, of which $3,000 can be used for the home; an interest buy down that allows for a 3 percent loan; a down payment grant that allows those who do not want the 3 percent loan to use these funds for a down payment on the loans; a loan loss reserve that assures the lender will be paid; farm energy plans worth $1,500 for only $125; free technical assistance; and a home energy assessment.
"Another thing we are doing is working with rural electric cooperative and utilities," Orr said.
Some cooperatives and utilities offer their customer rebates on energy efficient products like new lighting or heat pumps.
Hentges used some grant money and a low-interest loan to install bi-fold doors on his broiler houses, add more insulation in the ceilings, put additional insulation in the walls, install light-emitting diode lighting to replace incandescent lighting, retro-fit the sidewall inlets so they pull air from outside, and put new computer systems in each of the poultry houses that constantly monitor the environment. There is still some work to do around the edges of the houses that are part of the overall upgrade project.
Hentges knew he could save some money on his energy bills when an older poultry farm he purchased had lower energy bills than the set of houses he built new seven years ago. The four older broiler houses were built in 1996 but were rebuilt and rewired after Hentges purchased them in 2009.
"The electric bills here on this place were twice as high as the older farm," Hentges said. "They were nearly identical farms except that the barns at the older farm were open truss design with no ceilings like the new barns. After comparing the electric bills I knew we needed to do something. The new barns should have been a lot more efficient but they weren't."
Work on the poultry houses had to be scheduled between flocks. Hentges said he normally has 14 to 25 days between flocks.
Temperatures inside the broiler houses are maintained on a curve that varies from day one to day 54 according to the size of the birds. On day one when the baby chicks arrive the temperature in the houses is maintained at 86 degrees. This gradually goes down to 65 degrees as the birds get bigger.
Orr said just changing from incandescent lights to LED lights could save 80 percent of the electric bill for those lights. Even changing from compact fluorescent lights to LED can save up to 40 percent. Orr said a 1- or 2-watt LED fixture gives as much light as a 13-watt CFL or a 60-watt incandescent fixture.
Hentges had four poultry houses in the program and there are 46 lights in each house. The savings add up fast with that many fixtures.
"We have put two flocks through the buildings since most of the improvements have been done," Hentges said. "I know we are saving electricity and money."
MAESTRO is scheduled to run May 2010 to May 2013, and Orr said they are still taking applications from interested farmers. As of Feb. 10 Orr said they had completed 21 projects on the agricultural side and hope to complete 250 by the time the project is finished. On the home side they have completed three and hope to do 100 home energy projects.
"One of the things that DOE is looking for by picking us to do this project is to inform them about what is the right process for working with farms for energy conservation," Orr said. "This is the first time they have really looked at buildings. In the past it has been mostly tractor fuel efficiency."
The single biggest bill that many farmers face every month is their energy bill. Orr said MAESTRO has the potential to save some operations $300 to $600 per month on utility bills.
"MAESTRO was developed to assist Missouri farmers with improving the efficiency of their farms and their farm homes, therefore making them more competitive in the global marketplace and strengthening our agriculture industry and Missouri economy," Hagler said.
Editor's note: For more information about MAESTRO, call 800-732-1399 or email maestroinfo@MoAgEnergySavings.com.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.