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Illinois Farmers And Municipalities Are Taking Advantage Of The Benefits Of Solar

 Solar Panels On Johnson County Cattle Farm
Benjy Jeffords
Solar Panels On Johnson County Cattle Farm

Solar panels are becoming more common on houses and businesses, but now farmers are taking advantage of the benefits of solar.

Roof top solar panels are becoming a popular addition to businesses and homes.

Depending on the size of roof and the direction it faces some solar owners produce more than they use.

Financial representative and cattle farmer Mike Harris had solar panels installed on his barn in Johnson County in October.

“Looking into the future I think energy prices are going to go up, I’m going to retire from business in about 7 years and just be farming 100% and I felt this is a good to lock in lower future energy cost for the farm.”

Harris has seen a drastic drop in in his electric bill over the Spring.

“Since mid-April it’s been pushing out lots of energy it has lowered our electric bill, it’s zero for July, it was two dollars for June and it was seven dollars for April, we’ve not had any issues with it so, so far we’re very happy with it.”

On top of not paying an electric bill, covering the entire barn gave Harris an extra bonus.

“As big as this is we’re also a producer, we’re not just producing for ourself we got a big enough system that we’re selling energy back in to the grid, so we will actually make some money and get some credits.”

With the help of Solarize Southern Illinois Harris’ farm was inspected for the best place to install solar panels.

“When they came down Brent actually took a aerial map and they took that map back to their system and they looked over our farm, they actually looked at places we could put structures, but this turned out to be the best because it’s in sunlight all year round 12 months out of the year on this building so it just worked out perfect, it was the best place to put it on the farm.”

Which is why Harris installed the panels on his barn instead of his house.

“It was always to generate income and more electricity and this just allows us to do that versus just having a small system that just supplies it to our house.”

To go completely solar and generate that extra income, Harris had to make an investment in this conversion.

“The total installation and everything was about $48,000, that’s before your tax credit, your federal rebate which is 26% and your state tax credit which were about another 40%, we’re still waiting to get all those funds back, but the original investment was about $48,000.”

Working with Solarize Southern Illinois and a credit union they helped make the switch to solar go seamless for Harris by helping with the financing of the solar system with two low interest loans.

“Very simple, very easy, no out of pocket cost, I’ve got a solar system that works, that’s producing and is making me a few dollars, my said we already made $209 in the last couple of months.”

By utilizing federal and state rebates and credits Harris will recoup all of his out of pocket investment in a short time.

“We do have a monthly payment on the loan to make it legal, but once we get all our money back from the federal government and from the state on the credits we’ll pay those loans off and like I said in three years this is paid off including the interest.”

In May the City of Carbondale went solar by completing the construction of three solar arrays at different city owned properties.

City Manager Gary Williams says it took some planning because the city is tax exempt making financing a little more difficult.

“It’s been a challenge because we can’t utilize tax credits that are out there, that will make a good financial agreement for it, but fortunately a couple of years ago, straight up solar came to us and they had a partnership with some private equity people and through a power purchase agreement we were able to incentivize private investors to actually pay for all the cost associated with installing the solar.”

The private investors paid the two million price tag of installing solar panels at the three sites and through a power purchase agreement the city will power its facilities at a lower cost.

“There’s a financial benefit to the private investors, but also for us we’re going to save over a million dollars in the next 20 years and have a fixed energy cost, so it was really and win, win for everyone.”

Williams says two of the arrays will produce more power than the facilities use at those locations.

“Two of the three projects are two of our biggest energy users in Carbondale, the Public Safety Center, it’s open 24-7, 365 it uses a tremendous amount and then our southeast plant, because of all the mechanical equipment there, it’s a really big energy user.”

Harris says with all the incentives out there, a lot of people and farmers should consider going solar and he's been recommending it to other farmers.

“You got more opportunities to put panels up and a lot of farmers will have an area they can go out in to their field and put multiple panels up and it actually becomes the way I’m looking at it almost a little solar farm.”

Harris says he couldn’t be happier making the switch to solar.

“I actually do I feel like I’m a little solar farm, I’m doing something good for the world and I’m also going to be making some money off of it, so how it works it actually pumps energy back in the grid so during the day when we’re making more our neighbors are using what we’re producing from our solar system, I think that’s pretty cool.”

Copyright 2021 WSIU Public Radio. To see more, visit WSIU Public Radio.

Benjy Jeffords
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