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Harvesting the sun

By Staff | Sep 19, 2019

A solar project built on the Pautisan family farm near Walcott reduced their electrical bill at one of their farms from an average of around $2,500 a month to around $20 a month.



The name Van Wall may be more associated as an agriculture and commercial equipment dealer, but for the past 11 years they have gone beyond that offering and have been, what they claim, a pioneer in alternative energy solutions.

Jake West, solar energy specialist for Van Wall Energy which began in 2008, said the company’s main focus at that time, was wind energy but it has been in just the past four years, that focus has shifted to solar energy.

“The reason is because solar projects cost less. They are less maintenance which all of the customers like, as well as offering a longer warranty and a better return on their investment,” he said.

West said Van Wall Energy has constructed over 80 solar energy projects in the commercial and agricultural industry, adding they typically do not focus on residential projects, unless their electrical bill is $350 or more a month, then they will look at the potential for solar to be installed.

Agriculture related projects, West said that can benefit from solar energy include livestock farms where solar is used to help power hog buildings, turkey operations, chicken barns and more.

“It’s really for anything that uses a lot of electricity and livestock operations are pretty energy intensive so solar is usually a great fit for livestock producers because they can reduce one of their higher input costs, which is electricity,” he said.

In addition for use with livestock operations, West said farms with large grain drying operations could also benefit from installing a solar project.

There is a bigger benefit to those farms that are powered through Alliant Energy or MidAmerican Energy.

“If they are through Alliant Energy or MidAmercian Energy it is a real homerun because they allow net metering which basically means you can take any of the excess electricity that you have produced with solar and push it back out onto the grid,” he said. “Basically, you are able to build up retail – a credit that you can use for up to a year. That means you are producing a lot of electricity with your solar array in the summer and you can build up those credits to use that extra power when you need it in the wintertime when there is not as much sun.”

If you do not receive power through Alliant Energy or MidAmercian Energy are their still benefits to installing solar power?

“Solar still provides value, we just can’t offset as much of the cost as we can with a MidAmerican Energy or Alliant Energy customer,” he said.

Payback on a solar system, West said can vary, but typically is around four to five years and they offer a 25 year warranty on the solar panel.

“It’s a good, long term investment with low risk because with solar panels there are no moving parts. They’re built to last. They should last 30 years, if not longer,” he said.

If you are interested in solar to help offset energy costs, West said the process is fairly simple and can be done in approximately two months from beginning to end.

The first step, he said is to provide Van Wall Energy with the last 12 months of electrical bills.

“I need to see each bill from the last 12 months because I am wanting the kilowatt hours they used each month and what their rate was each month,” he said. “With that information, along with their site’s address, we can help them to meet the needs for that particular customer and that utility.”

After that, West said they will come visit with the customer, answer questions and if the project is a go ahead, Van Wall Energy takes care of everything including construction and the connection process.

“Once we get permission from the utility, after 30 to 45 days, then depending on the schedule, construction could take just a few days,” he said. “We then wait another couple of weeks to get the electrical inspection done and then the utility usually wants to come out and look over everything and give us and the customer permission to turn it on.”

The Pautisan family

The Paustian family raises hogs, and grow crops on their farm by Walcott.

In 2018, they reached out to VanWall Energy to install 3 solar projects: 145.8 kW, a 184.8 kW, and a 44.5 kW to provide electricity to their 3 hog and grain drying sites.

The Paustian’s wanted to make their operation more profitable, more competitive, and reduce the chance of Alliant Energy’s rate increases affecting their operation in the future.

With their investment, they were able to utilize the existing net metering guidelines with Alliant Energy to bank any excess electrical kWh’s as credits for use in the fall/winter for drying grain and offsetting their hog bldg’s needs.

They also were able to use the Solar 30 percent federal tax and State of Iowa solar tax credits.

According to information provided by Van Wall Energy, the April 29, 2019 Alliant electric bill (for just the Home farming site) was around $20 for the month, which used to average around $2,500/month. In April 2018, The Paustian’s paid $5,266 for electricity for their 3 sites. With the solar projects installed, they paid $276.79 in the month of April, 2019.

The Paustian’s are very thankful for the pro solar stand the Iowa Legislature, farming organizations, and leaders in Iowa have made to help make distributed solar possible for everyone.

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