Home grown energy.
That’s the Holy Grail consumers, industries, farmers and ranchers have been seeking for at least since the oil embargo of the 1970s sent gas prices soaring and lines of vehicles stretching for blocks as motorists waited and fumed in hopes of filling their tanks.
At no time since have the possibilities been more promising than now, said two energy industry representatives during the recent Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Bill Moore, with Conger LP Gas, Tifton, Ga., and Peter Marte, Hannah Solar LLC, Atlanta, said farmers and agricultural industries now have affordable, home-grown, sustainable energy options to power vehicles, irrigation systems and all manner of ag-related facilities.
“We have new propane engines,” Moore said, “available for irrigation.” And those options offer significant savings over currently available diesel and electric power, he added.
A propane engine offers as much as $7,800 per year in savings compared to diesel. The engine is cheaper, about $13,000 for propane versus $18,000 for diesel. And propane fuel, at $1.49 per gallon, is significantly cheaper than diesel at $3.50 per gallon.
Moore said a Ford V-10 propane engine rated at 2,200 RPM will turn two center pivot units and 1,000-gallon-per-minute guns.
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Over a 30-year depreciation schedule, propane offers potential savings of $85,000 compared to diesel power.
Comparison with electricity also favors propane with a potential of more than $2,500 the first year in fuel savings.
He also touted propane for vehicle power. One Conger client, a landscape contractor, converted four vehicles and two large mowers to propane. Conversion cost was $24,000 total for all engines. “He saved $17,000 in fuel the first year. Payback would be in 18 months.” The figures include the lower cost of propane versus diesel or gasoline and also a rebate.
“Propane engines are available nationwide,” Moore said.
Other advantages include environmental benefits. “Carbon dioxide emissions are lower. Also, 95 percent of our propane comes from the United States from the natural gas refining process.”
Some incentives, ranging from $600 to $5,000 are available for propane conversions.
Marte said solar energy is no longer a good idea that’s just too expensive to install and use. “Solar is not an expensive source of energy anymore,” he said. “Things are changing in solar as we become good partners with utility companies.”
Change has been rapid, with Georgia moving from zero solar investment to a $400 million to $500 million industry within five years. “Another $1 billion in solar power will be built in Georgia in the next few years,” Marte said.
An 80 percent price reduction for solar in the last five years spurred that growth.
And the cost of solar continues to come down and may get to as low as 1.67 cents per kilowatt hour, including tax incentives and depreciation.
“More Americans are now recognizing the benefits of an energy resource that’s reliable, abundant and is a huge job creator,” Marte said. “Currently, we have 119,000 solar workers across the country. And 92 percent of Americans agree that it’s important to use and produce more solar energy.”
Solar advantages are “driving private investment, including more than $7 billion in solar projects last year.”
Marte said solar energy remains a “politically divisive issue. But it should not be.”
Currently, tax advantages help investors build solar facilities. A $1 million investment generates a $300,000 tax credit and an approximate $350,000 depreciation, half of which is available in year one.
Ag markets have adopted solar power. Marte said Birdsong will put up a megawatt solar facility on 4.5 acres in Georgia. “Hannah has more than 55 ag-related projects in the works south of Macon. We are well established in the agriculture industry.”
Ag facilities with solar power include peanut drying sheds, cotton gins, solar barns, poultry operations and one project at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie.
Help is available from the government—for real.
The USDA offers incentives to enhance rural energy efficiency projects, including programs to make improvements to existing facilities and to add value to enterprises.
Mary Gavin, USDA Rural Energy specialist, said actions such as installing solar, wind, hydrogen or biomass facilities could qualify for funding. Energy efficiency programs also may qualify and may include such things as adding insulation, upgrading cooling and heating systems, grain dryers and switching to other more energy-efficient equipment.
Eligibility requires recipients to be directly involved in the operation and they must receive 50 percent or more of their income from ag business. The facility must be rural and a small business.
“We define rural as ‘outside a city of 500,000 or more,’” Gavin said.
She said purchase of a new energy system or an improvement must be “technically feasible.”
No one argues that oil and gas will disappear from farms, ranches and ag support businesses anytime soon, but the prospect of reducing reliance on foreign energy and creating new opportunities for job growth and sustainability may offer ample incentive to contemplate changes.