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Pros and Cons of Using Renewable Solar or Wind Energy on Your Farm

Wind turbine in wheat fieldHaving the space for large wind turbines and solar panel assemblies, farms can be ideal sites for renewable energy systems. As a major electricity consumer — to pump water through irrigation systems, dry grain, run barn fans, cool dairy produce, etc. — the farmer has considerable interest in reducing steep monthly utility payments.

Increasingly, American farmers are investing in solar and wind power. Some want to go off the grid completely. Others want to power specific systems, like water heaters or irrigation pumps. Still others contract with local utility companies to share any unused energy generated by the farm’s solar panels or wind turbines. Such arrangements can substantially reduce the farmer’s electricity bill. At best, he may realize a net profit from selling sun or wind powered electricity to the local power company.

The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program provides some grants helping farmers purchase the necessary equipment. It can help fund feasibility studies to determine the costs and benefits of tapping solar and wind energy. The IRS provides income tax credits to taxpayers who have installed solar or wind systems in their home, farm or business.

Even with such government incentives, however, the initial investment is substantial. Large wind turbines may exceed $50,000. A 10-Kilowatt solar system may run $35,000.

Choosing the right system can be tricky. Most states get enough sunshine to power auxiliary heating or cooling systems. But for areas with tough winters, a comprehensive solar power setup is unfeasible. Similarly, large swaths of the southeast lack sufficient wind speed to make wind turbines cost-effective.

Wind turbines often face legal and insurance hassles while some communities have aesthetic objections. Others worry about damage to migrating birds or accidents caused by storm-damaged turbine blades.

Would you allow wind turbines or solar panels on your farm?

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