If you are a farmer or rancher with irrigation costs that are making you wince, it might be time to consider developing a more energy-efficient system.
Dianne and Lee Hutchens took the plunge into solar energy using USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America (REAP) grant, and are glad they did. This winter, they have been earning credits from NV Energy; in April they will begin using the credits to power two circle pivots on 160 acres of irrigated pasture.
"We are happy with solar--for us it is easier to manage than wind. You might have to hose it off after a dust storm, but that is about it," Mrs. Hutchens said.
The Hutchens, who live 17 miles southwest of Austin, successfully applied for a REAP grant last year and received $41,098 towards the purchase a 50kw solar system with 178 panels in a solar array. The system was developed to provide power to the ranch's deep-well irrigation pump (75 horsepower) that is used to pivot irrigate 160-acres of pasture grass where the Hutchens run their cattle. The solar array went on line in September.
"We're watching it cautiously," Mrs. Hutchens said. "This is the slowest time of the year for solar production, since the days are short and it is overcast, but we think we are on track." The Hutchens' system is designed to generate 90% of the power for the irrigation pump.
The Hutchens worked with Mark Williams, USDA RD's Energy Coordinator in Nevada to finalize their application, and also were able to receive a $25,000 solar rebate from NV Energy. A tax credit helped reduce the overall project cost. The REAP grant can pay for up to 25% of the overall renewable energy system cost.
"We've had some great guidance, from Tahoe Solar, Hamilton Solar, and from Mark Williams at USDA," Mrs. Hutchens said. "We recommend people research their contractor and their system needs carefully. Everyone has to figure out whether these systems will work for them for the long term and whether it is economical. For us the REAP grant shortened the payout from 13 years to seven years. I am all for green energy, but it has to pencil out, it has to work economically. "
Rural small businesses, and farmers and ranchers are eligible to apply. The systems the grant can fund are either for renewable energy systems like solar, hydro and wind power, or for systems that increase energy efficiency-such as variable speed drives for well pumps or new energy efficient lighting, heating or air conditioning systems.
"REAP also offers a guaranteed loan for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects," said Williams. "Rural businesses that have been considering borrowing in to upgrade HVAC systems for example, may be able to save 25% by pursuing a REAP grant/loan combination."
The deadline for 2015 REAP funding will be announced in February.
Energy Coordinator Mark Williams will be conducting REAP workshops around the state in February. If you want to learn more, contact him at the USDA Rural Development Office in Carson City at (775) 887-1222, Ext. 116 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org