Farmers turning to solar power to cut energy bills
Monday, December 19, 2011
Solar power is energizing Southeast Missouri farms, helping farmers offset their own energy costs and generating clean power utility companies can buy.
There are about four farmers in the Gordonville area now using portable trailers equipped with solar panels to power irrigation systems previously operated by gasoline pumps.
"Farmers use a lot of power, much more than they used to as mechanization continues to increase in agriculture and they have readily available large surface areas for solar panels, whether it be buildings or unused roadsides," said Mark Nussbaum, an engineer with the USDA's National Resource Conservation Service in Jackson.
Nussbaum recently helped John Lorberg's farm go solar with three solar trailers and a set of solar panels on his house. About 50 local farmers attended a solar power seminar there last week presented by the University of Missouri Extension.
When Lorberg's trailers aren't powering his irrigation systems, they're hooked into Ameren Missouri's power grid producing energy Ameren purchases from him.
"So I've got these three trailers I use to pump water two months out of the year, do I want to let them sit in the shed? No," he said. "Even on a cloudy day, you'll be generating power."
Through net metering, electricity customers are able to export the excess power they generate and receive credit from the power company in exchange.
With federal tax credits and Ameren rebates for solar power, farmers who are Ameren customers will have a final cost of only about $4,700 for a $25,000 solar power generating system that will produce an average of 1,000 kwh of electricity each month, according to Nussbaum.
The federal government offers a tax credit equal to 30 percent of solar power system costs and Ameren Missouri customers can receive a rebate of $2 per watt of capacity, up to $50,000.
In 2007, when Nussbaum was assigned to do his first solar power test project by the USDA's National Resource Conservation Service, he admits he was skeptical.
The cost of solar panels continues to drop, making it a more economical option for farmers.
"When we started the panels cost just over $8,000 per trailer to build," Nussbaum said. "If you bought that same panel set today, it costs right at $3,000."
Nussbaum said it's hard to know just how low panel prices will go, but he is confident the rebates and incentives being offered now won't last forever.
"Right now there is opportunity here, especially if you're on Ameren," Nussbaum said.
In addition to the four farmers now using solar power trailers, Nussbaum said at least 10 have spoken to him about putting similar systems together.
Farmers also have the advantage of not having to worry about zoning and permitting requirements associated with installing solar power systems those within city limits may have to deal with, Nussbaum said.
For more information about solar power systems, Nussbaum suggests visiting sunelec.com or wholesalesolar.com.
Highway Z, Gordonville, MO