MERRILL, Wis. – James Botsford owns a ground-mounted solar array located 150 feet from his residence – because his roof wouldn’t accommodate an efficient system. He chose to overbuild his system by 20 percent to accommodate expanding to electric cars in the future at his home near Wausau, Wisconsin.

Botsford was one of several at a solar-panel discussion held this past month in Merrill. A full room listened to panelists share their experience and expertise on the practical aspects of investing in renewable energy.

Nathan and Lynette Wolosek are cash-crop farmers from near Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. They attended because they hope to take advantage of grant money available for renewable-energy investment. They raise potatoes, sweet corn, green beans and sweet peas for canning, along with a small herd of grass-fed beef. The couple also has a small-scale apple orchard and vineyard for personal use. They farm 2,500 acres as part of a family corporation consisting of three brothers, three uncles and Nathan Wolosek’s mother.

The Woloseks aren’t new to solar energy. They installed solar panels on their home more than 30 years ago – and those are still operational. One of the biggest hurdles the Woloseks have experienced was finding an electrician who understood what changes needed to be made to the farm’s existing wiring to accommodate adding solar.

Once that hurdle was cleared Wolosek and his son Lance Wolosek built the array themselves. It’s an expandable ground-mounted 20-kilowatt system. It was designed and engineered by Next Energy Solutions of Shell Lake, Wisconsin. The Woloseks used the company’s blueprint to build the array. They prioritized using a location that’s expandable. Nathan Wolosek said he’s also considering adding solar arrays on other parts of his land. He said he hopes to someday use solar power to drive his center-pivot irrigation lines.

The Woloseks are working on grant money with Adam Snippen, an energy adviser with Focus on Energy. He holds a master’s degree in environmental science and policy from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He’s a Certified Energy Manager with the Association of Energy Engineers.

Focus on Energy offers rebate incentives specifically for the agribusiness industry, many directed at dairy farms that are large consumers of electricity. Snippen is a free resource for advice and assistance in the process of investing in energy-efficient upgrades. He works with farms and dairies of all sizes, with production models to lower energy costs and encourage investment in renewables.

Energy efficiency is an investment with guaranteed returns, Snippen said. Payback periods can be less than a year with certain equipment, especially after taking advantage of Focus on Energy incentives. Dairy farmers should consider energy-savings advantages when installing things like variable-frequency drives on milking vacuum systems and fans. Greater incentives for High Bay light-emitting diode lighting are also being offered.

Many farmers are also taking advantage of incentives for general maintenance of their equipment such as dairy-refrigeration systems, he said. Even if folks aren’t planning to purchase any equipment, he still meets with farmers to discuss how they are billed by their utilities. He looks at load shedding and controlling optimization opportunities. That helps customers significantly reduce energy costs without spending a dime.

“Any business with a sustainable mindset will understand that lowering operating costs and increasing efficiency can make a big difference when profit margins are low,” Snippen said.

He’s worked with a wide range of farms from Community Supported Agriculture farms to large dairies and crop farms.

Lynette Wolosek said when adopting solar energy a person changes his or her mindset about energy use. The Woloseks have added more electrical appliances in their home and farm workshop that utilize the energy they produce. They take timing of electrical usage into account to match sunlight.

Nathan Wolosek said he’s learned much about solar energy. Some people have the misconception that Wisconsin isn’t a good place for solar because of dark winters.

“Wherever you live on this crazy planet you get the same amount of sunlight; it’s just balanced differently,” he said. “At the extremes it’s all, or nothing, for extended periods.”

Solar panels work more efficiently in cold weather, he said, making Wisconsin a great place for a solar array.

Visit www.focusonenergy.com/RECIP and for more information.

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Greg Galbraith and his wife, Wendy, sold their dairy farm after 30 years of grazing cattle. He now has 20 acres of his grandfather’s original farm with a sugar bush and cabin. From there he writes about the evolving rural landscape. Visit www.poeticfarmer.com for more information.