More and more rural electric cooperatives and individual farmers are turning to solar power as an energy alternative.
Brady Boell, director of safety and member services for the Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative, says his cooperative has built five sites in Iowa since October 2018.
“The idea was to offer members a way to invest in solar energy,” he says. “Many cannot install these arrays on their own property, so this allows them invest.”
Each site includes 584 panels, Boell says. They are located on western Iowa sites near Sac City, Coon Rapids, Wall Lake, Breda and Glidden.
Combined, the sites produce roughly 720 kilowatt-hours daily, and anywhere from 55,000 to 107,000 kwh in a month.
Boell says the co-op is required to buy all power generated and distributes the energy to their power provider, Corn Belt Power Cooperative in Humboldt.
Boell also works with individual farmers to install panels on the farm.
“We want to help them answer any questions they might have, and to make sure it’s something they really want to do,” he says. “It’s a substantial up-front investment that pays off over time. Some just want their operation to be more green, while others want to offset their usual power bill.”
Boell says on-farm systems are built to provide the farm’s energy needs.
“You can get paid 2.1 cents per kwh if you have excess energy, but you want to get the array sized so you are using the majority of the power on your farm,” he says.
Many livestock producers are using panels to power their buildings, not to mention all other farm uses.
Solar energy use has rapidly grown over the past two years, says Tim Dwight, president of the Iowa Solar Trade Association and owner of Integrated Power Corporation, a solar energy installer.
Dwight’s company began in the early 2000s on the West Coast. He bought into it in 2008.
“I thought this kind of technology should work anywhere, so I came back to Iowa and viewed this as an opportunity to power our communities,” he says.
Dwight says rebate programs and other incentives have helped solar energy to grow throughout the country.
“Here in Iowa, the tax cut we received in 2012 really ignited our industry,” he says.
Earlier this month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill to enhance the “predictability” for the state’s solar industry. Dwight’s group played a key role in the passage, along with partners including MidAmerican Energy and the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
Today, Dwight says the solar industry has over 800 employees in Iowa alone, generating more than $50 million annually, with most of that in rural areas.
He says the solar energy industry should continue to grow, adding he believes it is more dependable than wind energy.
“There are no moving parts with solar energy. We just collect what the sun gives us and send it on down the line,” Dwight says. “I think we’re only getting started with solar energy. I think it’s going to continue to grow.”