In an age of disappearing small and medium size farms, Doug and Jane Popp are making their medium-sized dairy and crop operation near Royalton, MN work.
After talking with them for a while, it becomes clear how. They have a passion for farming and the way of life it offers, and a keen eye for the bottom line—which includes a farmer’s frugality, as well as a creativity and willingness to seize good opportunities. Top on the list of these seized opportunities? The Popps put the wind, the sun, and energy efficient technologies to work for them!
Solar on Popp Farm
It all started in 2010, when a family member who was taking a course in renewable energy systems asked if he could use their farm to complete a solar assessment for a school assignment.
Once they started looking, they realized they had a perfect spot up on the hill, just south of the wind turbine; and once they started running numbers and looking at the programs available, it became clear that solar could be a great investment.
Here is a snapshot of the solar PV system they installed:
- Size: 10 kW
- Project cost: $53,000
- Funding received: $42,815
- $25,000 grant from Minnesota Power*
- $13,450 USDA REAP grant
- $4,365 Federal Tax Credit (additional tax benefits come from the fact that this equipment can be depreciated like any other piece of farm equipment, and that all equipment is exempt from sales tax)
- Out of Pocket Cost: $10,185
- Electricity Generated per year: 14,500 kWh
- Current value of Electricity Generated per year: $1,450
- Annual maintenance costs: $0
- Simple payback: 8 years
*Note: The utility grant will not be available to everyone, or available in smaller amounts. However, if the utility grant had not been awarded, the tax credit would have been higher. For example the tax credit would have been $11,867 if no utility grant was awarded. Also, this project did not take advantage of the Made in MN Solar Rebate Program, which may be a big savings for many people.
Taking Advantage of the Wind
The Popp farm also boasts a 150-foot 20kW Jacobs wind turbine, installed in 2007, visible behind the solar collectors in the photo above.
Here is a snapshot of the wind turbine:
- Size: 20 kW
- Project cost: $49,000
- Funding received: $32,375
- $20,000 Minnesota Power grant
- $12,375 USDA REAP grant
- $11,625 low interest loan through Minnesota Department of Agriculture
- Out of Pocket Cost: $11,625
- Electricity Generated per year: 12,000 kWh
- Value of Electricity Generated per year: $1,200
- Annual maintenance costs: $225
- Simple payback: 8 years
Energy Conservation and Efficiency First
AND they did things in the right order. BEFORE installing renewable energy generation capacity on their farm, the Popps invested in replacing aging, inefficient equipment with new, energy efficient upgrades in their dairy operations. They replaced the milk bulk tank and added a plate cooler and scroll compressor. A refrigeration heat recovery unit was added about the same time. They also changed their barn ventilation to wind tunnel style from the original cage fans, something which has improved energy efficiency along with cow comfort. They also provide heating on the farm with a boiler, utilizing the abundance of downed wood available in the woods surrounding their farm. Lastly, they also received a USDA REAP grant to install a new, energy-efficient irrigation system.
Bringing It All Together
These three endeavors combined together result in a working farm that averages under $200 per month in electricity bills. Ask any farmer you know—they will tell you that this is an incredible achievement.
When asked what advice they would give to a farmer who is considering energy efficient upgrades and renewable energy systems, the Popps had many fine nuggets of wisdom to share. They were glad for their decision to hire a grant writer to help with the USDA grants, and recommend finding a grant writer who works at least partly on commission, so that the incentives line up. There is currently a new round of USDA REAP funding and loans available for 2015. Click here to learn more about REAP and how to apply >>
“You have to be driven. See it like a marriage, and commit. Use the tools that are out there help you, and if you are creative about it, it will no doubt help your bottom line in the long run”
Unlike most farmers, the Popps can look to the future and not be unafraid of how energy prices might affect the bottom line of their farm.