Solar fueling farms

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Ron Brooks and his daughter, Zoey, operate a 1,600-acre, 250-cow dairy farm in Waupaca with help from seven employees. Ron's dad, Dodge, has officially retired and spends his winters in Arizona, but during the growing season, he still helps in every way he can.

The family's strong conservation ethic has passed from generation to generation.

Along with all of their other conservation practices, they set out to conserve energy by capturing the energy from the sun when they expanded their farm to bring in the next generation.

The Brooks harness one-fourth of their electricity needs with solar panels mounted on their dairy facility roofs. Their spacious farm shop is also designed in a way that they save heat in winter and prevent overheating in the summer.

Other farmers around the state have also found the benefits of using energy from the sun to power their homes or farms.

In southwestern Wisconsin, Organic Valley Cooperative has led the way in energy conservation and set an example with their own energy-saving installations at their LaFarge headquarters.

Solar installations at the La Farge facilities (tracker-mounted and roof-mounted solar panels, solar water heaters and transparent solar cell windows) generate approximately 86,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year.

They turned to solar for its new headquarters to support the co-op's 'triple bottom line' of sustainability — social responsibility, ecological integrity and economic stability — by transforming window facades into renewable energy generating assets.

This project included the installation of 20 solar windows that deliver solar power while simultaneously providing significant energy efficiency gains and optimized day lighting.

Understanding solar

Installing solar, however, can be confusing. That's where Consumer Affairs can help. Consumer Affairs is an independent web-based consumer news and resource center.

'We are not a government agency,' said Morgan Ardrey, content marketing specialist. 'Most people tend to think of us as a free Consumer Reports or Yelp type of source.

'We worked with global thought leader, Zachary Shahan, to put together the solar energy guide. The guide was developed to help consumers find out what the different types of solar companies are, the financing options they have and which companies will work best for their specific needs. We also include verified reviews for the most researched solar companies in the nation.

'Our goal is to ensure that each consumer can make a smart buying decision. We want them to know what questions to ask when doing a search in their local community.'

Their resource is a free and available online at

Government help

A year ago, Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack announced that rural agricultural producers and small business owners can apply for resources to purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements.

'Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America,' Vilsack said when the program was revealed.

USDA offers grants for up to 25 percent of total project costs and loan guarantees for up to 75 percent of total project costs for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.

On top of that, there are tax incentives for those who install solar on their farms or in their homes.

The Investment Tax Credit is a 30-percent federal tax credit for solar systems on residential (under Section 25D) and commercial (under section 48) properties that, under current law, remains in effect through Dec. 31. The Section 48 commercial ITC is used for utility-scale, commercial and residential sized projects. The company that installs, develops or finances the project uses the credit. The Section 25D residential ITC is used for residential-sized projects, and the homeowner applies the credit to his/her income taxes. This credit is used when homeowners purchase solar systems outright and have them installed on their homes.

By the end of this year, however, the U.S. will reduce this important 30 percent tax credit for customers to 10 percent. As a result, solar sales, particularly to utilities, are expected to slow in 2017.

Solar worldwide

Worldwide, the solar panel market is relatively new and still relies on incentives in many countries. As the industry matures and relies less on government subsidies, the boom and bust cycles may be less pronounced.

The global market for solar panels is expected to soar to a record high in the first half of 2016 because of strong demand as well as favorable policies in the both the U.S. and China, said a new report from research firm IHS Technology.

However, in the second half of 2016 and into 2017, growth is expected to slow after the U.S. lowers its solar tax credits and a push by China to install more panels ends.