By Bethany Baratta
These days, farmer Mike Bates has an extra appreciation for the sun. Not just because it’s helping to grow his crops, but now it’s also helping to power his livestock farm.
Interested in lowering his electricity costs, Washington County Farm Bureau member Mike Bates looked into installing solar panels on his turkey farm.
“For me to take better care of my livestock, I needed to keep them cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter and have better lighting. So I continued to need more electricity,” Bates said.
Ankeny-based CB Solar installed the 100 kW solar array on Bates’ turkey farm one year ago in June. The panels were attached to Bates’ turkey barns.
“I already had the existing buildings at the right angle to the sun to take advantage of all of that energy from the sun. So it was just a fit,” he said.
The panels are converting the sun’s energy to electricity. Through a converter, that then powers the ventilation systems in his turkey barns, feeders, lights and waterers, and also his grain dryer.
Keeping the fans running
“Now, with the solar panels, I feel really comfortable that I can have a lot of fans running to keep those birds comfortable during the heat of the summer,” he said.
Bates also added a solar array to his machine shop, which cuts down on electrical costs on his farmstead.
After crunching the numbers, Washington hog farmer Mike Norman found a solar array to be a great fit for his farm.
Installed last winter, Norman’s solar array converts the sun’s rays to electricity through an adapter. It’s then used to power the feeding system, waterers, ventilation system and lights on his feeder-to-finish hog farm.
“It’s good for the environment and it’s a way we can become self-sufficient,” Norman said.
Bates said he has had no problems with his solar array. It’s able to withstand ping pong ball-sized hail and winds up to 60 miles per hour, he said. And if it rains? That just cleans the panels, he said. Norman said the accumulated snow was tough on the solar panels because the cold weather didn’t allow the solar panels to completely thaw quickly. However, this summer is making up for that.
“We’ve been extremely pleased with what their output has been this summer,” Norman said.
Bates and Norman both worked with Alliant Energy to take advantage of rebates and credits to be applied to their solar projects. Bates said he’ll have the entire project paid for in September—just one year and three months after it was installed. Bates said that might not be the case for every farm in Iowa; size of the farm and project funding is unique for every farm.
Through Alliant Energy, Bates and Norman are able to bank the extra electricity they generate during the summer for use during the winter. During the month of June, Bates saved $3,000 on electricity. Norman said his solar array has cut his electric bill by 40 to 50 percent.
As they look to the future of their farms, Bates and Norman said that includes more solar projects.
Bates is looking at projects that convert the sun into heat for his turkey barns. Norman said he’ll continue to add solar panels to his new barns.
“Washington County is the No. 1 solar county in the state of Iowa,” Norman said. “It’s an environmentally good thing we can do.”
Bates said using solar energy just makes sense.
“It’s exciting. It’s so simple. You let the sun shine and have no maintenance and no moving parts,” he said. “In my mind, every turkey building, every hog building in the state of Iowa needs a solar panel on top of it because why wouldn’t you?”
Reprinted with permission from the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.