Tim Gulden of Winona Renewable Energy and farmer Nathan Gibbs a panel for the cow barn | Photo S. Waughtal

Gibbs Dairy Farm near Altura home to 120 holsteins and now 166 solar PV panels

Dairy farmer Nathan Gibbs is in a sunny frame of mind. He just installed a 39,840 watt PV solar system on the south-facing roof of his cow shed, which will supply 30% of the farm’s electricity needs annually.

Gibbs milks 100 Holsteins on his dairy farm in southeast Minnesota near Altura. He has been farming for 10 years, but this year, with a 30% federal tax rebate, accelerated depreciation, and a rebate incentive from Xcel Energy, the time and financing was right to invest in renewable energy.

Winona Renewable Energy installed the 166 panels on the cow shed during February and March 2012, a winter in which the weather cooperated with construction work. The system is tied to the grid and provides power to both the home and farm buildings. Each of the 166 modules has its own Enphase micro-inverter that relays its data to a web-based tracking system. If there ever is a problem, it will be easy to determine exactly which panel has the problem.

The roof of the cow shed is very high and has a gentle 3:12 slope. When asked how snow would be removed from the panels during winter, Tim Gulden, co-owner of Winona Renewable Energy, explained that the vast majority of solar electricity is produced in the non-snowy months in Minnesota. Even if the snow is never removed from the panels, except naturally by sun and wind, at most there would be a 9% reduction in energy production over the course of the year.

The cost of the turnkey installation was $4.62/watt. After the $2.25/watt rebate form Xcel, the 30% federal tax credit and the accelerated depreciation bonus, Farmer Gibbs anticipates the investment will pay for itself in energy savings in 5 years.

Gibbs chose solar PV because it is a no-maintenance, no-worry system. His is the first dairy farm in his area that he knows of going with solar power, but we bet it won’t be the last!

See more photos of the project in the slideshow below:


  • Business: Dairy Farm
  • Location: Altura, MN
  • Approach: Renewable Energy
  • Technology: 166 PV panels, 39,840 watt system
  • Annual Energy Generation: 30% of farm’s electricity
  • Total Project Cost: $184,000
  • Cost to Owner: <$40,000 after Xcel rebate, federal tax credits

Learn more about great farm applications for solar energy on our Rural Minnesota Solar Initiative page.

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