Brainerd Dispatch- News Article
Published May 17, 2007


Farmer Bob Nibbe Looks to Nature For Energy
By Renee Richardson - Senior Reporter

Bob Nibbe and turbine
Bob Nibbe has been harnessing wind energy with his own wind turbine since February. He said the wind turbine project grew from a desire to produce enough electricity to offset the monthly fixed costs at his small farm off St. Mathias Road south of Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist

ST. MATHIAS, MN - On a windy day, Bob Nibbe can reap a byproduct of nature he can't even see.

High overhead with an impressive view of woodland and hay fields, the wind turbine seeks out the breeze off St. Mathias Road south of Brainerd. During the recent gusty weather, the turbine blades were whipping through the sky. But even on mild days, Nibbe said the turbine can usually find a breeze and tap its energy.

Nibbe's 120-foot turbine should supply the needs of two households or one small farm. That's just what Nibbe is hoping for - harnessing the wind to supply energy for his 160-acre farm.

Nibbe's 70 acres in timothy grass and alfalfa fields are green and growing. About 30 free-range chickens share space with a couple of sheep and a donkey, who arrived at Christmastime and was promptly named Rudy. Nibbe was expecting 9,000 strawberry plants last week for the family's growing Boys 'n' Berries strawberry farm. Nibbe is increasing the acreage for a "pick your own" patch that his young sons - Aaron and David - can help run in 2008.

Inspired by the wind turbine at the Morrison County Fairgrounds in Little Falls, Nibbe researched the plan. About nine months later Nibbe and his wife, Caroline, had a wind turbine up and running.

"It went together just like an erector set," Nibbe said.

Bob Nibbe looked at the control panels in a building near the wind turbine's base. The turbine will supply all the electricity for the farm's irrigation system throughout the summer. All excess electricity is delivered to the Crow Wing Power grid. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist

A Minnesota company - Wind Turbine Industries Corp. - manufactured the turbine and tower. The Nibbes worked with David Winkelman-Winkelman's Environmentally Responsible Construction group. And they submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a sustainable farming renewable energy grant.

An increasing number of small farmers are putting up wind turbines for renewable energy, said Steve Wenzel, Minnesota state director for USDA Rural Development, which is the lead agency in development of renewable energies. The program, called Section 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill, established renewable energy and energy efficiency loans and grants for ag producers and small businesses.

Since the program began in 2003, Minnesota received almost $18 million in grants, or about 22 percent of all grant funds awarded - the most of any state in the nation, Wenzel said. Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska follow. Wenzel credited the Legislature for providing renewable energy incentives and USDA's knowledgeable staff helping people through the application process.

Two projects in the area are in Pine River with the Hunt Utilities Group and the Nibbe farm.

Wind power

The turbine at the Nibbe farm is a Jacobs 31-20, which means the blades are 31 feet in diameter, with a capacity of generating 20 kilowatt-hours of electricity on a day when the wind is 25 mph; 20 kwh of electricity equates to a 27-horsepower motor.

The Nibbe farm generally purchases 2,000 kwh of electricity per month from Crow Wing Power. In April, the turbine produced 1,000 kwh.

The deadline for grant applications is Friday. The deadline for loan guarantees is July 2.

For more information, go online to,, e-mail or call the USDA office in Baxter at 829-5965, ext. 4.

The USDA reports loan guarantees cover up to 50 percent of a project's cost, not to exceed $10 million. Grants are available for up to 25 percent of a project's cost, not to exceed $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements and $500,000 for renewable energy systems. Wenzel said the Bush administration's 2007 Farm Bill proposal calls for a significant increase in renewable energy and energy efficiency funding to the tune of $500 million in grants during 10 years and $2.17 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy overall.

"It's a tremendous expansion for the program," Wenzel said. "We are seeing an absolutely vast amount of dollars."

Benefits come in helping small farmers survive, promoting rural business and national energy independence, Wenzel said.

"I believe the road to energy independence runs through the farm," Wenzel said.

Those interested in the next round are advised to apply early as a lot of documentation is needed. And as other states join the hunt for dollars, competition is expected to increase.

Bob and Caroline Nibbe's Boys 'n' Berries strawberry farm on St. Mathias Road is developing an additional 2 acres for a "pick your own" berry patch that their young sons - 8-year-old Aaron and 6-year-old David - can help run in 2008. They incorporated the wind turbine into the logo and hope it will be part of an educational opportunity teaching people and students about renewable energy.

David Gaffaney, USDA business and cooperative programs director, said the renewable energy momentum has been helped by better technology (wind turbine microchips detect small amounts of wind and change blade pitches to catch it). Improved technology is coupled with high gas prices, interest in renewable energy and concerns about global warming, Gaffaney said.

Gaffaney said farmers can use funds for energy efficiency too, such as replacing old grain dryers with new ones. The USDA has funded more than 800 loans and grants since the renewable energy program began in 2003.

"These loans and grants are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.97 million metric tons, replace 821 million barrels of foreign oil and generate almost 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually," the USDA reported.

For Nibbe, the grant provided 25 percent of the project's cost. Funding for the majority of the project, Nibbe reported, was provided by an equity line of credit at Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union. Huge wind turbines can cost $1 million to $2 million with smaller ones as little
as $100,000.

The Nibbes offered use of the turbine as an educational tool to Central Lakes College for its engineering program and the Brainerd School District as part of its Project Lead The Way program. And the wind turbine is going into the Nibbes marketing for the farm.

"It's got kind of a cool factor to it," Nibbe said.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 218-855-5852.