Making flour with wind power

by Arvin Donley
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Stafford County Mills
Reuel Foote, right, president of Stafford County Mills, and his son, Derek Foote, assistant manager, stand beside a sign to be placed outside the company's wind-powered flour mill.
 

HUDSON, KAS. — When viewing the Kansas landscape, perhaps the two most prominent features are its golden wheat fields and the powerful wind that whips across those amber waves of grain. Stafford County Mills, located in Hudson, Kas., is using that omnipresent Kansas wind to power its flour mill that grinds local wheat into the company’s unique and renowned Hudson Cream short patent flour.

In 2014, Stafford County Mills installed a wind turbine near its central Kansas mill, making it the first commercial flour milling facility in North America to use wind power-generated electricity produced on site.

Reuel Foote, president of Stafford County Mills, said the wind turbine, which went into operation in December 2014, allows the company to offset retail energy rates and lower carbon emissions.

“Stafford County Flour Mills physically sits in one of the best wind corridors in the United States, and so it was only natural that we seek an opportunity to procure our energy responsibly and reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy while fixing one of our key input costs in flour milling,” he said.

The idea of using wind power as a source of energy for the mill came from Jeff Weltzin, vice-president of sales for Stafford County Mills. Driving toward Stafford County Mills one day from his home in Colorado, Mr. Weltzin noticed hundreds of wind turbines churning along Interstate Highway 70 in western Kansas that are used to provide electricity to local communities. He wondered if this type of “green” energy could be used at a flour mill.

The answer, after doing a feasibility study, was yes: Stafford County Mills was the perfect-sized mill (2,400 cwts per day production capacity) in the right location to use a single wind turbine to cost-effectively power its flour mill.

“If we had put up a full windfarm power-sized generator, the problem is we would have had all this excess energy we’d have to pay back to the power company at pennies on the dollar,” Reuel Foote said. “We were at the perfect size where we can use almost all of the power from a single wind turbine and yet still keep the power company on the hook.”

The company was also fortunate to be in a location where sustained winds are almost always in the 6 to 50 mph range that is needed to operate the turbine, and just far enough away from the Quivira Wildlife Refuge so that it wasn’t deemed a threat to birds.

However, the feasibility study also found that the ideal place to install the turbine was not on company property, which meant Stafford County Mills had to seek permission to lease property from a nearby landowner.

“We went to the lady who owned the ground and she was very receptive to leasing to us; she thought it was pretty neat,” he said.

Stafford County Mills purchased Gamesa Technology Corp., Inc.’s G58-850 kW turbine from its primary distributor, Harvest the World Network (HTWN), whose regional partner, Sustainable Energy Developments, designed, permitted and installed the turbine on a 55-meter tower. Reuel Foote said Gamesa has a wind farm near Waverly, Kas., so its technicians are available on fairly short notice to maintain or repair the turbine in Hudson.

Reuel Foote noted that the three main costs in flour milling are wheat, labor and electrical usage, with the latter being the item that a company has the most control over. Having operated the mill on wind energy for more than two years, he said he has no regrets about making the $2 million investment, which included the cost for the turbine, the transformers, electrical lines, surveying, etc.

Stafford County Mills
Stafford County Mills employs seven full-time workers in the packing house.
 


“It has definitely decreased our energy costs,” said assistant manager Derek Foote, Reuel’s son, who spearheaded the wind turbine project for the company. “There are always fluctuations. It has produced anywhere from 140,000 kW hours to 260,000 kW hours per month, depending on the wind conditions. When it averages out over a year, it basically produces the amount of energy that the flour mill uses itself.”

Derek Foote said the turbine, which has a general lifespan of 20 to 25 years, will pay for itself in seven years.

“It is a long-term investment,” he said. “Once it’s all paid for we are basically hedging our energy costs so instead of us always having those main input costs, we’re protecting ourselves from continuing rising energy costs and keeping them more fixed.”

Attempting to curb energy costs wasn’t the only reason Stafford County Mills decided to invest in wind energy. Reuel Foote said the company also wanted to make a statement about its commitment to energy conservation.

“A lot of our larger retail chains have a sustainability index that they require for all of their suppliers,” he said. “This can give us a leg up on the competition by showing that we are using green energy. Some companies just do that by buying energy credits from the power company, but they don’t have a turbine.”

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