WASHINGTON, Iowa — Even with a roof over their heads, some of Kurt Hora’s pigs are still finding a way to soak up some sunshine.
Hora, who farms near here in Washington County, put solar panels on two of his buildings about three years ago.
“We have a 2,400-head site, and the panel on the one building generates enough power for the entire site,” he says. “Our power bill for that site used to be $600 per month, and now if we have a sunny month, we’re paying the $18 service charge and that’s about it.”
Hora also has a panel on a nursery building. His electric bill for that building shrunk from $400 per month to the service charge fee.
He attended a meeting a few years ago involving the use of solar panels. Several local hog producers had already made the jump to solar energy.
“It sound pretty interesting, and after going to the meeting and talking to some people, we wanted to try it,” Hora says.
The panel on his finisher is about 200 feet long, he says.
“We’re starting to see quite a few of these in our area,” Hora says.
The popularity of the panels for ag and other uses has grown steadily over the past few years, says Joel Zook, energy planner for the Winneshiek Energy District in Decorah.
“Five years ago, we had three solar panel installers looking for work in this area, and now, most electrical contractors install panels as part of their regular business,” he says. “We have a lot of panels on homes around Decorah, along with some businesses and farm operations.”
Zook says farmers use the panels on structures ranging from dairy barns to grain dryers. He says most are cutting their energy costs by as much as 90 percent.
Zook says there are several programs available for those interested in solar energy. He says the federal government offers a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of the installed system.
The tax credit remains at 30 percent through 2019 before dropping to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021.
“Iowa tax credits are set at half of the federal tax credit, but are set to expire at the end of 2017 unless the legislators extend them,” Zook says.
He says both local RECs offer some sort of net metering program, where kilowatts are tracked and excess wattage can be cashed in by the user. The programs vary depending on the provider.
“Some will allow you to rollover what you have as well,” Zook says. “The cash you might receive isn’t a whole lot, so it’s best to install the system based on your actual usage.”
He says MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy also offer net metering programs.
Zook says the cost of solar panels continues to trickle down, which should make the systems even more popular.
“You can save the same amount of energy with a lighting upgrade as installing solar, for about a quarter of the cost,” he says. “I recommend that anyone get an energy assessment and see where they can save energy before installing solar. NRCS has some great cost-share programs through EQIP for energy efficiency.”
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