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Local Farm Uses Sun for Power

Mount Vernon News, Saturday August 2, 2014–by Henri Gendreau

HOWARD OH–The sun is shining on GrassyDell Farms.

On top of two large milking barns on Schenck Creek Road  near Howard sit 130 solar panels.

“I think they look pretty good on the building myself,” said Dale Grassbaugh, of GrassyDell.

“I just think it’s something we need to do more of,” said Grassbaugh, who was partly inspired to install the panels by his son Doug, who put in solar panels on his property last year.

The panels on Grassbaugh’s barns were installed in March by Third Sun Solar, an Ohio-based company that has installed about 400 systems since its founding in 1997, said communications director Gerald Kelly.

“An interesting thing about farmers as business people, they tend to be long-term thinkers,” Kelly said. “Farmers don’t buy and ‘flip’ farms. They’re in it for the long haul.”

Kelly said that beside looking toward the future, farmers are used to making large purchases for equipment and dealing with market volatility. Those two mindsets come into play when factoring in the initial cost to install a solar electric system and dealing with fluctuations in energy costs.

Grassbaugh said his system is currently providing about two-thirds of his electricity and Kelly said the system would pay for itself in four to seven years. [Solar panels are warranted for 25 years and continue to produce significant amounts of power well beyond that.]

“It used to be ten years ago that people who put in solar were not allowed to connect to the utility grid,” Kelly said. Now, however, those who produce electricity from solar panels are able to sell extra energy produced back to utility companies. They also qualify for federal tax credits [due to expire in 2016].

A meter on GrassyDell Farms shows how much electricity is being [made, used, and shared with the grid]. “Right now I’m buying electricity,” Grassbaugh said on a sunny Tuesday. “A minute ago I was giving it back” [as the meter dial spun backwards].

In June, the Obama administration announced plans to curb climate change by targeting coal-fired power plants, which could increase electricity costs.

“As time goes one, they’re going to get tougher on pollution,” Grassbaugh said. The prospect of increased electricity costs can make solar energy a wise investment.

Grassbaugh stressed that the cost-effectiveness and energy savings depend a lot on the kind and size of system installed.

“Everybody has to look into it,” he said. “It’s just like everything else, like buying anything — you have to decide for yourself.”

Solar Power May Disrupt the Utility Industry

 

Sundance Peaker Plant

Sundance Peaker Plant

from http://afarmerinohio.blogspot.com

Deregulated electricity generators make most of their profits on hot summer afternoons, when air conditioners and offices force grid operators to call up their most expensive electricity: natural gas “peaker” plants. Cheap to build but expensive to operate, these plants are essentially jet engines, producing power on demand for a few hours at a time. However, the entire industry benefits when peaker plants kick in, because every other generator, including the cheapest hydropower operator, receives the same top dollar during those peak hours.

Solar panels — whether utility scale or residential rooftop — generate maximum power on exactly those hot afternoons when demand peaks. What’s more, they do so at no marginal cost; the sun is free. This reduces reliance on peakers, causing prices to fall across the board, including for customers without solar power.

This is what terrifies power companies. In California, the afternoon peak has effectively collapsed. CAISO, the state’s grid manager, projects that the peak will become an afternoon chasm, so low that even power plants designed to operate 24 hours a day as “baseload power” (nuclear energy is a good example) may face difficult decisions about when to operate.

The first victims among utilities will be generators that sell electricity from peakers and other plants in the open market. Soon, their plants will be needed only for the few hours around dusk when the sun is weak but demand is still relatively high.

The monopoly utilities will be hit next. Edison Electric Institute warns of “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects” due to the spread of distributed power generation from renewable energy sources.

Why is solar growing so fast? Because in the past three years, the cost of panels has been halved.

The move from a highly controlled and generally predictable grid to a more decentralized and less predictable system will be a huge challenge, but a challenge worth dealing with.