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Sun-Powered Farms

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

In today's world, saving on energy usage is a vital way to reduce expenses. If you're a farmer, you know how the costs of fuel and electricity can affect your bottom line profit. However, thanks to technological innovations, there are now more ways than ever to conserve energy. One of the big energy advancements in recent years is the advent of solar power. More and more, farms across America are using solar power to save money on energy bills, and in some cases, the power produced by solar energy is a commodity of its own.

Is solar worth it? The savings seem to be there, but in order to make it work you'll need to be able to afford the installation cost. Even after incentives, the price can be hefty (the sample bill on Paradise Energy Solution's site reveals a$65,000 net cost). You'll also need to have the space, either on the ground or on rooftops, to install the panels. If you have the money and the space, it might be worth considering.

Solar Power

The most recently published On-Farm Energy Production survey from the USDA (2009) revealed that there were 7,968 farms in America using solar panels. While the report doesn't specify energy savings specific to solar power, it indicates an annual average savings from renewable energy sources (including wind turbines, methane digesters and solar panels) of $2,406 across farms of all sizes. The report indicates that the average cost of installation was $31,947, but that 44% of these costs were funded by outside sources. These sources include the USDA's Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP), which offers grant funding and loan guarantees to farmers and small rural businesses which install renewable energy systems or make other energy efficiency improvements. There are also other incentives available on the state level, such as the California Solar Initiative (CSI), in which businesses are eligible for rebates for solar panel installation. The amount of money rebated depends on solar panel performance.

Energy is a valuable commodity these days. In fact, for some farms, solar power is a crop in-and-of itself. In North Carolina, the Singletary family - who grow tobacco, peanuts and cotton – is now leasing 34 acres of land to Strata Solar LLC. According to the NC Sustainable Energy Association, solar companies pay yearly rents that range from $300 to $700 on land that would generate $27 to $102 per acre in rent for crop growth. The contracts with solar companies are often 15 to 20 years in length. These are eye-opening numbers indeed.

How to get Solar Power for your Farm

If you're interested in using solar power for your farm, you'll need to contact a vendor. SunPower, from San Jose, CA, and Paradise Energy Solutions, from Gap, PA, are just two examples of companies that are installing solar panels on American farms. SunPower provides solar power solutions for businesses of all sizes. One of its clients, Rodney Strong Vineyards, won the Green Power Leadership Award in 2004 after cutting its electricity bills by 40%. Paradise Energy Solutions can also install panels on farms of all sizes, and a sample bill (at $550 per month) on their websites indicates that, including federal incentives, a farm can pay off the system in 6.9 years with annual electric savings of $6,600. For installation pricing info (for both SunPower and Paradise Energy Solutions), a quote must be obtained from the vendor. To find out about other vendors, a Google search will yield results, including companies in your area.

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