Wind and sun provide viable energy options for rural Wyoming agriculture
Lingle – During the mid-July UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) tour, UW Energy Extension Coordinator Milt Geiger explained using both wind and solar energy to pump livestock water.
“It really makes sense to pump livestock water with solar, and sometimes wind energy,” says Geiger. “If you have to run a powerline, these energy forms start to make more sense. The farther you have to run a line, the more sense they make.”
He adds that both systems, and especially solar, are very durable. “They are just about as durable and reliable as power coming from a power plant. The solar panels can generally handle baseball-sized hail and 150 mile-per-hour winds.”
“Another advantage with solar panels is there are no moving parts. You have your protons and electrons and they do their work and it’s all set. It’s a very good way to power and pump water,” he adds.
Some panels come with a 25-year warranty and are guaranteed to produce 85 percent of their original power production after 25 years. “For example, the engineering building on the UW campus had solar panels installed during the early 1980s and they’re inverted. Today they’re producing at 75 percent of what they did in 1983, so that’s pretty good,” notes Geiger. He adds these statistics are for the panels only, and pumps aren’t generally guaranteed for that long.
Wind turbines don’t last as long as solar panels because they have more moving parts, and with the stress the blade experiences when the wind is blowing, some maintenance is to be expected.
“The advantage with wind is you’re going to pump a lot of water. Wind is also cheaper than solar, per watt pumped. You can pump more water for less, but must recognize there may be more maintenance,” explains Geiger when comparing the two energy forms.
“There are trade-offs. If you want to pump a lot of water, look to wind. If you really value reliability, look toward solar,” he says.
Wyoming’s altitude and clean air help maximize solar power. In Goshen County solar panels produce between five and 5.5 kilowatts per meter on an average day.
“Production is based on several things. Efficiency is hindered by heat, so a cold sun actually produces better. The peak month of solar energy production is May, because the heat and longer days are balanced that time of year. There are strategies that can keep these things running year-round,” notes Geiger.
He adds producers interested in utilizing renewable energy resources should be aware of available incentives.
“There is a 30 percent tax credit available for individuals, businesses and farms and ranches. That lops 30 percent right of the top, and you don’t have to pay sales tax. You can also use a modified depreciation,” he adds.
Farms and ranches may also be eligible for a 25 percent USDA Rural Development Grant. UW information says the grant will offer producers up to 25 percent in grant and guaranteed loan options to make energy efficiency improvements, including irrigation equipment. The funds can also be used for non-residential renewable energy systems.
“In most situations you can make these energy sources pencil out, especially if you’re a business and you hedge into the future. If you think about it as renting power from the power company, all of a sudden you own what you were renting, so you’ve created an asset,” says Geiger.