Electricity — it’s usually so plentiful that we take it for granted, not worrying about where it’s coming from or how it gets to us. For some dairies, though, it pays to take the power into their own hands.
Having 96 solar panels on top of their freestall barn has saved Reid Dairy Farm in Michigan about 15% to 20% of their annual electricity costs, said Jim Reid. They put up the project in 2010 when an incentive was available from their electric company to help defray the cost, and it’s been a system that works simply and easily for their farm, he stated. The power is always available (they put power on and can take power off the grid when needed), and maintenance is minimal.
“I’ve always been interested in renewable energy. As farmers, we all know the power of sunlight and wind and wonder how we can harness that power,” said Reid.
Dave Daniels, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, has a similar mindset. His Mighty Grand Dairy was already using energy efficiency measures such as variable speed motors, timers on electricity use, and LED lighting when they determined solar power would be the best fit to take their efforts to the next level.
After doing their research, the dairy installed a 198-kilowatt solar array in what was previously a small, 1.25-acre field right at the front of the farm. They started the planning process right before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world and complicated supply chains, but they were able to complete the project later that year and started using the generated electricity in January 2021.
On warm days full of sunshine, the system produces more power than the 570-cow dairy needs, and they will receive a credit from the utility company at wholesale price to use at night. Daniels also noted that maintenance is minimal, only consisting of mowing under the panels.
If solar power sounds attractive, both Reid and Daniels advised doing thorough research to see if it will work for your farm and be profitable. Incentives and grants can be a useful option to look into to help fund a project, Reid noted. For Wisconsin farms, Daniels pointed to Focus on Energy, which helps businesses save energy, as a good partner.
To learn more about these solar projects, as well as two farms moving toward green energy with methane digesters, check out the February 2023 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.