Missouri Dairy Business Update

Volume 14, Number 10
October 2014

Douglas County Dairy Farm Switches to Solar

by Ted Probert

Photos of Grison Dairy Farm's solar installation

There is a lot of discussion these days about the generation of environmentally friendly energy. One dairy farm family near Ava, Missouri recently moved beyond discussion and on to implementation with the installation of a solar energy system. Heinz and Vroni Buff are currently producing sufficient electrical energy to run their milk parlor as well as their home.

The components of the system include one hundred 26.5 watt solar panels and three electrical inverters. Its rated capacity is 26.5 KW. The panels are mounted on the south-facing slope of the Buffs' hay shed. They produce DC electrical current that is converted to AC by the inverters which are mounted on the wall of the hay barn. The number of both panels and inverters required by a specific installation will be determined by the KW capacity needed by the operation. Power coming from the inverters is available for use on the farmstead.

While the generating system is rated at 26.5KW the actual output fluctuates according to the intensity of sunlight. Less power is produced on cloudy days and production is nil at night. At times when electricity is produced in excess of demand the surplus is fed back onto the grid and the amount going out is monitored by the power meter at the pole. This excess power nets the farm “credits” which can be redeemed when system production does not meet the demands of the farm. One negative is that in the case of a power outage the farmstead cannot use the solar generating system due to the possibility of putting electricity back on the grid and causing injury to repair linemen.

A question that comes up is can the farm sell power back to the grid? The answer is no at least not for a feasible price. The means of remuneration for excess production is through the credit system mentioned above. For this reason it is important that installations be sized as closely as possible to generate all the power the farm requires but not to generate too much excess.

According to representatives of Missouri Sun Solar, the company that installed Buffs' system, system maintenance is minimal. There are no moving parts to wear out and all components have a long life expectancy. The panels are sturdily constructed and have proven to withstand considerable weather challenges including large hail. System warranties include: workmanship - twelve years, inverters - ten to twenty five years, panels - twenty five years.

Obviously a major factor when considering a solar installation is its economic feasibility. The cost of this system, sized to run a home and a one hundred cow dairy was $80,000. A 30% federal tax credit reduced the cost to $56,242. Reasonable twelve or twenty year financing is available through the company. The Buffs' monthly payment with twelve year financing at 2.99% is $471.09. That is about $100 more than they previously paid for their electric bill (@ 11 cents/KW). At the end of the twelve year financing period electricity will be available essentially at no cost. In their promotional literature Missouri Sun Solar predicts an annual 5% increase in electric rates. Any increases in rates would enhance the attractiveness of the system economically.

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