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Investing in solar modules to provide power to your farm is a big investment and one you shouldn’t rush into, says Dan Erickson of Triple E Farms near Altona, Ill.
“Solar gives us something that we can own and benefit from over the long lifespan of the system. Being environmentally friendly is important to us as farmers. We take pride in the fact that we are producing nearly 100% of our electrical needs without using any carbon-based fuels. It makes our farm more sustainable both environmentally and financially,” Erickson says.
Erickson operates a 700-sow, farrow-to-finish operation with his brother David. They sell about 50% of their pigs as SEWs to neighboring farmers. They also have 2,300 acres of corn and soybeans.
Many of the pig farms in their area have put up solar arrays, he adds. There is no question the initial cost can be a roadblock, but he believes there are opportunities for an excellent return on investment. However, incentives such as rebates, grants and taxes, change for better and worse over time.
“Be aware of that and don't be in a rush if you are not happy with the return. It could change quickly if a new program becomes available,” Erickson says.
A view from the grain bin of the solar arrays at Triple E Farms. Photo by Dan Erickson.
Here are 5 things to consider before you invest in solar modules.
1. Talk to your utility company.
Your utility company may have suggestions on which solar contractors are good to work with, he says. Ask for their recommendations if you aren’t sure where to start.
2. Secure several quotes.
Do your research up front. Ask for references and investigate what people like and don’t like about the companies you are considering. It’s important to obtain several quotes and make sure you are comfortable with the company you choose to work with. This is a long-term investment so pick your partner wisely, Erickson says.
3. Consider possible locations.
Where would you want to put your solar modules on your farm? Erickson says the type of system you choose could depend on where the modules are located. “A tracking system such as ours moves east to west, so the rows will run north to south. A stationary system will face the south, so the rows run east to west. Depending on the space you have available that could be a deciding factor,” he adds.
4. Size it right.
Do you plan to expand? Do you hope to retire soon? Adding solar modules is a long-term investment. If you were planning to retire, would the solar be of value to a future owner or would it go un-used?
“As long as you are not a net producer (seller) of electricity, it's pretty simple. Things get more complicated if you are selling,” Erickson says. “If you are planning to expand your needs, weigh the costs of putting in the infrastructure now to handle heavier loads down the road. Adding panels is fairly easy, the other infrastructure–not so much.”
5. Know your voltage type.
“Ours got complicated because we had 208v, 3-phase service for part of the farm and 480v service for another part. The utility required us to convert everything to one service or the other,” he adds. “That resulted in added expense that the solar company ended up covering, but it created problems we had to work through.”
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