Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why NOW! Solar Provides Solar Services For Farmers and Ranchers

By: Eugene Wilkie

Recently Farm and Ranch Guide wrote an article about the viability and reasons solar makes sense in the ranching and farming community. You know that when middle America agricultural community decides to adopt solar it means we have reached main stream. I grew up on a farm in Washington state and the one thing that I think most folks mistake about ranchers and farmers is their business sense. It is a business and a big one at that. Agriculture and agriculture-related industries contributed $775.8 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012, a 4.8-percent share. Forget your straw chewing, a shucks kick the dirt, back woods stereotype. These folks work harder than most and are often rewarded nicely for their effort.
Washington decided to offer a incentive package of up to $5000 a year for solar energy production plus no sales tax on solar products or installation. We quickly learned that the farming community understood the federal tax incentives as they have been utilizing them for years in farm tax incentives that are very similar in structure. One of the semi hiccups early on when we started was a third party was not eligible for the incentives in Washington but we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of banks that would loan to our customers at great rates. Most of the banks here exist due to the farming community. So here is what the Farm and Ranch Guide and another article I ran across with a farmer who installed solar who claims God hates Cowards had to say about solar.

Farm and Ranch Guide

Solar moves beyond early adopters in upper Midwest

November 14, 2014 6:00 am  •  

It’s time to consider solar power again.
Better technology and lower prices are making solar power in 2014 achievable and more affordable than in the past.
Solar panelsSolarTwo types of solar power are available – thermal collectors heat air and water; photovoltaic (photo – light and voltaic – electrical potential) systems convert light to electricity.
“We’re really past innovators and early adopters with solar and looking at the ‘early majority’ now. The cost of solar has come down a lot, and all sorts of people are now installing solar energy projects,” said Dan Thiede, Clean Energy Resource Team communications manager, University of Minnesota - St. Paul.
Consumers can now purchase solar energy systems for as low as $1 per watt, with added installation costs.
The federal government provides a 30 percent tax credit and some utilities and states provide other incentives for approved solar projects.
Thiede encourages rural leaders to learn more about USDA’s Rural Development Program called REAP (Rural Energy for America Program).
“There’s a big interest in helping farms and small businesses in rural parts of the country install solar and other renewable energy systems,” he said.
REAP also funds work to help producers determine how efficiently they are using energy now on their farms and ranches.
There is enough sunlight up here
Those who live in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains may wonder if there is enough sunlight available to make photovoltaic (PV) cells cost effective.
The answer is, yes we do have enough solar resource year-around – but we have to strategically place our solar panels.
Thiede pointed out that Germany has more solar power than any other country in the world, even though most of Germany sits farther north than the Dakotas, Montana or northern Minnesota.
South-facing roofs on barns, houses and sheds offer the highest solar collecting potential.
During the winter, one challenge is making certain that snow can melt off of solar panels and not pile up underneath.
“For the most part, the solar panels are really dark in color, so if some light or warmth can get through that snow, it will heat those panels up, and the snow should slide right off,” he said.
To help landowners learn more about the solar potential on their properties, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERT) worked with the University of Minnesota’s U-Spatial program that offers GIS (Geographic Information Systems) consulting services.
The program’s head, Len Kne, worked with CERT and a group of GIS graduate students to develop the Minnesota Solar Suitability App.
Using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data and GIS technology, the team developed a map that shows solar potential with 1 square meter of resolution for all of Minnesota.
“Minneapolis, New York, Boston and several other cities have done similar analyses, but these efforts have been limited to individual cities,” he said. “This project is unique because it maps solar potential for the entire state of Minnesota.”
Available at, users enter an address and click on an icon to see if solar radiation per square meter is poor, good or optimal – which is about 3 kilowatt hours per square meter per day.
Users will quickly realize the importance of placing solar panels on south-facing roofs or open areas devoid of trees or tall buildings.
The Minnesota Solar Suitability App uses the average amount of solar potential across the entire year.
“The best solar resources are in the summer months when the sun is higher and more directly overhead. There is a slight decrease in solar resource in the winter months,” he said.
Farmers are using solar
Thiede said several Minnesota farmers have installed solar PV systems to convert sunlight into electricity.
These include Nathan Gibbs of Altura, Minn., who installed a 39,840-watt PV solar system that supplies about 30 percent of his dairy farm’s needs. The system’s cost before incentives was $4.62 per watt. Gibbs collected a $2.25 per watt rebate, a 30 percent federal tax credit and accelerated bonus depreciation.
Eichten’s Organic Cheese Farm in Chisago County is installing a 1-megawatt community solar garden. A solar garden is a large solar array where many people purchase subscriptions to support solar energy generation. The new array will include 3,000 solar panels at Eichten’s Farm.
“Anyone who has electricity needs for lighting, for equipment, for refrigeration – solar is a great way to provide electricity,” Thiede said. “It’s nice for farms and ranches too because a lot of the time, they have plenty of space – or barns with big, flat roofs. Solar can be a great fit.”

Farmers love solar – driving costs down for long term savings

David Dodge and Duncan Kinney

“God hates cowards,” that’s how Bob Sargent, a farmer who also runs an oilfield services company and serves as a local councillor explains why he made his first investment in solar energy.
As part of an innovative new solar program he recently put a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on his property and is already looking to put up more.
“It’s cut my power back quite a bit. The economics are there plus it’s green. When I put this in we were only allowed ten [kilowatts], but now they’ve upped it and we can go higher than ten now,” says Sargent. 
Sargent lives in Starland County a small, rural county north of Drumheller, Alberta. It’s dry and flat and home to about 2,000 people, mostly farmers. And Bob never would have installed his solar modules if it hadn’t been for the county. Matthew Kreke is a project manager for Starland County and according to him it all started with water.
“We wanted to bring rural water to most of our residents, that requires a lot of pumping and a lot of these pumping stations are very remote. So originally were trying to look at ways to cut costs with our energy for bringing water to our citizens. And that’s sort of how we stumbled onto solar. From there we’ve been involved with several different programs trying to bring solar out and we’ve seen the cost fall from there,” says Kreke.
Water is heavy stuff and moving it around takes a lot of energy and money. All told the county runs 65 kilowatts worth of solar at various pumping stations and community buildings.
Inspired by their success with their own solar projects Starland County wanted to help its residents take advantage of this technology as well, so they developed the Starland County Solar Incentive working with the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre and Bullfrog Power. The goal was to install 100 kilowatts of solar with 10 different and they wanted to keep it affordable.
Through discussions with farmers Starland County found a tipping point. If they could bring the payback down from 20 plus years to 10 or 13 years they would have no trouble attracting people to the program. To bring the costs down they worked hard to develop a creative and affordable template for 10-kilowatt solar systems.
With the help of Bullfrog Builds (the program we also featured our other recent community solar episode) and theMunicipal Climate Change Action Centre they were also able to offer a financial carrot, a grant of up to $5000. With farmers doing some of the installation themselves, plus tax incentives meant that they got the payback scenario down to 10 to 13 years and the cost down to about $30,000, even before the grant.
“Well some of these farmers out here have been out here a long time so when you talk about making an investment that will pay off in 10 years a lot of these are 100 year farm families out here. They are also groups that have lots of land, they’re comfortable putting together machinery, taking care of equipment and they also make large capital expenditures on an ongoing basis so a typical farmer in our county isn’t going to be scared away from a $30,000 purchase,” says Kreke.
* Bob Sargent is a farmer, councillor and small businessman who was one of the first to get involved with Starland County's Community Solar program. Photo David Dodge, Green Energy Futures
Bob Sargent is a farmer, councillor and small businessman who was one of the first to get involved with Starland County's Community Solar program. Photo David Dodge, Green Energy Futures

When “Matthew [Kreke] got on board he was looking for a couple of farmers to be guinea pigs and to me it just sounded like it would work and I’m thinking ‘God hates cowards’ so here we are,” says Bob Sargent.
Sargent is pretty enthused, and already predicting better than planned performance. “Originally I thought roughly a ten-year payback, but I’m going to be less than eight years. But there is a 25 year warranty so in eight years I’ll get my money back plus I’ve still got 17 years left of warranty still on it,” says Sargent.
Sargent says he and his farmer brethren are comfortable thinking outside the box, looking for something new. And it’s hard to argue with him, this small county in the middle of the Prairies is a solar leader. They have pioneered an affordable template for farmers to add solar to their operation and benefit long term from solar energy for the next 25 years.

Douglas County dairy farm switches to solar


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