Harvest the Sky

Farmers who put pencil to paper in the 1970s or 1980s and decided investing in solar power on their farm wasn’t worth the effort may want to rethink that position, according to Mark Olinyk.

Olinyk is a Jackson, Mich., entrepreneur and president and CEO of Harvest Energy Solutions. He owned and operated a grain warehouse facility in the 1980s and built small offset antennas in the 1990s. In the 2006, he turned to helping farmers and ranchers become more energy independent on their operation with solar power and wind power. He says he’s seen big changes in costs since that time.

“In 2006, solar was twice the cost of wind power,” he says. “Today, it’s half.”

Thanks to grants, solar renewable energy credits, tax credits and even equipment depreciation, the cost of solar power is about as low as it has ever been, he says.

“The price has gone down 50% in the last five years,” he says. “It might be bottoming out, but it’s still worth your consideration.

Olinyk highlighted other benefits of solar energy during a session at the 51st National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky., including:

  • Clean, safe, quiet, affordable, renewable energy source
  • Offsets to utility electrical costs
  • Production warranties of up to 25 years, with reasonable lifespan of 40 years or more
  • Reliable real-time and historical performance monitoring

Olinyk says he may have had the largest indoor solar display ever at the 2016 National Farm Machinery Show. “I’ll claim that until someone proves me wrong,” he jokes.

Harvest Energy Solutions takes would-be customers through a rigorous 150-point inspection during the proposal process. That’s because any number of farm conditions could help or hinder a particular project, such as shade, gradient, local utility requirements, the amount of wire to connect to the grid, and so on.

For others, wind energy could prove the most lucrative renewable energy source. One company, United Wind, hopes to connect thousands of U.S. farmers to customized wind turbine projects that are tailor-made to their operations’ energy needs.

The group’s legacy was crunching numbers on wind analysis, and once CEO Russell Tencer saw that banks were comfortable lending against those analyses, the idea was born to place turbines on farms. Now, United Wind has $200 million in backing to make that idea a reality.

“We see wind as a resource that has value, and there’s value in harvesting it, just as you would harvest any other crops on your property,” he says.

Tencer says there’s a difference between United Wind’s efforts, which he describes as “distributed wind,” and the large-scale utility wind endeavors. Farmers who participate aren’t selling energy to a utility company; rather, they’re paying United Wind a lower cost than they would for their current utility provider for generating wind energy on their property. Tencer says savings could add up to $200,000 or more for the lifespan of the 20-year lease – with no initial or downstream costs.

“Once it’s up and spinning, we manage it remotely and maintain it when needed,” Tencer says.

At the end of the 20-year lease, Tencer says farmers can renew the lease, pay outright for the current market value, or have the turbine removed.

All told, United Wind hopes to build 1,000 new projects during the next 2 to 3 years and reach out to as many as 10,000 farmers over the next two decades.

Source: Ben Potter,

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