first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest It has always been present in fields and farmhouses — a spirit of independence, and self-reliance that has been etched like laugh lines in the face of American farms. For modern farms with an interest in the independence and self reliance that comes with getting off the energy grid, there have been steady improvements in solar technology that make it a viable option for some operations, but there is plenty to consider.“Solar energy can be used on farms directly and/or sent to the grid and used to offset electricity use later in the year via net metering,” said Fred Michel, associate professor of biosystems engineering in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. “In addition, these systems result in the emission of almost no greenhouse gases, reducing a farm’s impact on climate change. Due to decreases in the cost of solar panels, state and federal incentives for renewable energy, and the experience of Ohio solar installers, the lifetime costs for solar electricity are now usually less than for electricity from the grid. This helps agricultural producers reduce their costs and their environmental impact, both of which are essential to their future productivity.”John Lindner, of Clark County, recently added solar panels for a 32,960-kilowatt system on his small farm operation and has been very pleased with the results, but it was not an easy undertaking.“I don’t want to be tied into the system. This lets me be more self-reliant. I don’t want to have to count on anyone else. Now we can heat the hogs and make electricity during the day. We have a small farm with 100 sows in a farrow to finish operation, 10 or 15 cows, some chickens and 235 acres of corn beans and wheat and a little hay. We feed all of our corn, sell the beans and buy in bean meal to feed,” Lindner said. “I don’t like leaving a mess. We are interested in renewable energy when we can make it work. In 2012 or 2013 we started looking at solar energy.”Lindner had seen information about the potential for solar on a visit to the Farm Science Review and was interested in the potential, so he began to do some research.“There were several companies with solar panels. There are a lot of guys doing it and a lot of ways to get into this. You have to find the right guys to do this,” he said. “I just started looking on the Internet and reading more about it. I got four estimates.”Eventually, Lindner decided to work with James Groeber out of Springfield for the project.“We had to show them all of our electric bills. I was using so much electric I was getting discounts in the winter. He looked at my bill and told me I shouldn’t do it because he saw my discounted bill. Then when he saw my bill in the summer, it made more economic sense when I wasn’t getting the discount,” Lindner said. “Now I guess my bill will be around $150 or so a month for my house and the farm use will be covered by the solar. I was using 60,000 kilowatts annually for the heat bulbs for the hogs, the grain dryer, the ventilation fans that are running most of the time, feed augers, and the fans on the wood burners heating the barns.”The initial look at the economics of the electric use was just the first step in the decision process. The next step was looking at the available grant dollars and tax incentives to help offset the initial cost and make the project viable.These solar panels on the roof of John Lindner’s hog building were producing an average of 150 kilowatts a day in August.“James had the grant process in mind before we started, but he told me that we were not guaranteed the grant before we started and he wrote me a quote without that grant. It was a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant through USDA — those can be for energy efficiency, wood burners, and other things for farms, but not residential. It does apply for rural small businesses. REAP is competitive for federal dollars allocated by USDA to the states,” Lindner said. “In the grant you need proof from your bank for funding, an interconnection agreement with the local utility, proof of ownership of the farm and other things. James and I sat at the kitchen table trying to figure out that grant and it was three-quarters of an inch thick. We started that last fall. It was challenging, but it sounds like it has gotten a little easier since then. The grant was for 25% of the cost not to exceed $500,000. There is also a 30% federal tax credit on the money for the project after the grant, then you can depreciate it so 85% of the project can be depreciated.”Once the grant was approved, after around eight months, the supplies were ordered and the construction could begin.“He had stuff ordered within the week and they were setting it up in 10 days. With a good crew it goes fast,” Lindner said. “It was done in three weeks or so in mid-August of 2015.”Lindner has been very pleased with the new solar panels mounted on the roof of his hog building.“It has been wonderful so far. They did a wonderful job. Right now we are still buying a little energy through harvest and through the winter. The days are shorter and cloudier,” he said. “August was the honeymoon month. We were averaging 150 kilowatts a day in August but it may be a third of that in the winter. We were using maybe 110 or 120 kilowatts a day. We average maybe 130 kilowatts a day for the farm so we’ll still have net energy use in the winter. If we can break even in seven years in terms of reducing energy costs we’ll be doing well. You’re just paying all of your electric bill at once as far as I look at it. The inverters are warranted for 12 years.“I did put new a roof on the buildings and I would suggest doing that before you mount the solar panels on the roof. There is a four-inch stainless anchor that goes through the sheet of metal and the truss. If the solar panels come off the roof we have a bigger problem. It looks like it has a really good seal. I hate putting holes in a roof but that looks like it will hold pretty well. It was $10,000 to put the new roof on but they needed to be done anyway.”The farm’s electric use and generation are monitored by a bi-directional meter on the farm.A bi-directional meter on the farm monitors the farm’s electric use and generation.“When the arrow points left on that meter we are generating more electricity than we are using and providing energy for the grid. We like to see that,” Lindner said. “Farmers need to talk with the utilities about what they are doing so they can take appropriate action with the transformer if needed, though there may be extra costs associated with the project.”There is plenty of potential for solar use on farms, particularly livestock operations with a more consistent farm energy use, but Lindner advises that the decision be made carefully and thoughtfully.“I have been hearing more buzz about this and you are seeing more out there. The technology is changing fast and when you get on board with this you may end up with something different than what you started trying to do,” he said. “I paid for this with my tractor money and sometimes I really wish I had that new tractor, but this has worked well so far. We try to treat our animals and the environment with respect to take care of what God gave us. This will help us to do that.”last_img

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