Installing small-scale sustainable energy like wind and solar power on the farm and ranch is not free. However, according to University of Nebraska Extension biological engineer, F. John Hay, federal and state incentives make such ventures much more affordable.
"The price of solar has come down quite a bit," Hay told a group of producers and small business owners at a UNL wind and solar energy field day at Haskell Ag Lab near Concord recently. Are wind and solar projects cheap enough and can producers pay off the ventures quick enough? Hay asked. He said that it depends on each individual's situation.
There is a federal personal tax credit of 30% for projects like solar water heat, photovoltaics, wind fuel cells and geothermal heat pumps, he said. Farmers and businesses located outside of urban city limits may also qualify for USDA Renewable Energy for America Program, or REAP grants that could cover up to 25% of the cost of the project. These grants are competitive and producers would have to apply through USDA.
Along with these incentives, Nebraska offers sustainable energy producers monthly net metering, Hay said. Net metering is an electricity policy for consumers who own small renewable energy facilities like wind and solar power. In this context, "net" means what remains after deductions, or energy outflows from metered energy inflows, he explained. This allows energy production that is connected to the metered local utility power grid to accumulate toward a retail credit for at least a portion of the electricity they generate.
Hay said that monthly net metering, or allowing production to accumulate through the month, is better than no net metering, but it is not as good for producers as annual net metering would be.
Nebraska net metering is limited to 25 kW system capacity, while other states are much higher. North Dakota allows for 100 kW capacity and Iowa allows for 500 kW, according to Hay.
These incentives all add up to help farmers, ranchers and small rural businesses afford sustainable energy. "Without these incentives, the economics aren't as good" for such projects, Hay said.
If you'd like to learn more about small-scale wind and solar energy projects for the farm or ranch, watch for a detailed article in a future print issue of Nebraska Farmer. You can contact Hay at [email protected] or call 402-472-0408.