Solar power gaining popularity among Nebraska farmers

BENEDICT, Neb. (AP) - A small but growing number of Nebraska farmers and owners of businesses and homes are adding solar or wind power to their properties to save money and help the environment.

Among them is Rick Hammond, who recently turned on 96 solar panels near his grain bins to start generating electricity, The Lincoln Journal Star reported Sunday ( ).

“This is a proud moment for me. I feel like I’m doing something good for the earth,” said Hammond, who’s also looking forward to saving about $3,000 a year on his electricity bill.

Hammond’s solar power system cost $84,864, but a combination of tax credits and a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant reduced the cost to $19,100.

Solar power proponents worry that projects could slow considerably next year if Congress doesn’t extend the current tax credits for solar power.

Hammond’s system will help provide power for the aeration units that dry his corn and the home his employee lives in. If Hammond’s farm manages to generate a surplus of power over an entire year, then the utility will cut him a check.

It’s not clear exactly how quickly solar power is growing in Nebraska because state agencies don’t track it specifically.

The Nebraska Power Review Board said the number of customers who have signed up to generate some of their own electricity reached 253 this year. That’s up from 45 just five years ago.

Martin Kleinschmit installed solar panels at his farm near Hartington four years ago. He chose them because they’re quieter than a wind turbine and don’t require maintenance.

“You just let them sit out there and they work,” he said.

Kleinschmit even started a business to help other farmers, including Hammond, apply for grants to install solar power.

Solar power has been slower to catch on in Nebraska than other states, partly because electricity is relatively cheap here, the newspaper reported. But proponents still believe in the option.

Property developer Cliff Mesner installed solar panels at his home and office, and then he persuaded several Central City businesses to work with the city-owned utility to develop an array of 800 solar panels. That 200-kilowatt system in an abandoned parking lot is the state’s largest.

Mesner said he thinks solar power will become more common as the panels and batteries to store the power improve.

“I think solar arrays are going to be popping up the way people are using cellphones and iPads right now,” Mesner said.

Last modified onTuesday, 27 October 2015 08:02

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