Solar Panels

Have you noticed an influx in the number of solar panels around the Four States? From ground-mounted arrays to solar panels installed on the rooftops of homes, barns and businesses, it seems the Four State area is going green.

With tax credits, rising utility bills, decreasing costs of green energy production, and an increasing demand for renewable energy, more people — including farmers and ranchers — are considering solar energy options.

“Solar has gotten affordable,” said John Tullis, owner of Home Pro in Joplin, Missouri, at a recent informational Solar Seminar. “The math works.” The cost of solar has decreased 70 to 80 percent in the last several years.

Don McClasky with ResearchSolar.net explained electric bills in the Joplin area have increased an average of 5 percent per year in the last eight years, and the trend looks like it will continue.

A way to hedge against rising electricity costs, he added, is going solar.

“Solar energy systems are long-term investments,” McClasky said. However, the fixed cost of a solar system compared to variable utility rates is a “big economic consideration.”

Solar systems also improve the value of a home. He explained the appraisal method where the value of the solar system over 25 years is added to the home’s value.

According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s Division of Energy, “Missouri solar installations have increased from 101 kW in 2009 to over 7.8 MW in 2012. That’s an increase of over 7,000 percent in three years.”

Solar panels are guaranteed for 25-years by virtually all manufacturers. This is possible because there are no moving parts — everything is done on the atomic level within the panel.

Cody Cherry, Home Pro sustainable energy manager, explained he evaluates properties and collects data for the landowner prior to contracting the installation of a solar array. This information includes everything from best location and position for a solar array to critical assessments that will play into how the array is engineered. He also evaluates the property’s energy usage to determine the number of panels needed for sufficient power.

In the Four States, solar panels need to face south for optimum efficiency and need to be free from trees or structures blocking direct sunlight, Cherry explained. Panels can face east or west but the array will require more panels due to decreased efficiency.

Cherry explained solar arrays would pay for themselves over time. However, the amount of time depends on the situation.

“Solar is kind of like a fingerprint for your home,” he said. “Everyone is going to be different when it comes to energy.”

Another item to consider is the potential for the solar array to be incorporated into a dual-purpose structure, Cherry said.

“Dual purpose is fantastic,” he said. “We do that quite a bit for shade for the cattle and horses as well as providing power for your farm and your home.” Another example is a dual-purpose carport where the roof is formed with the solar panels.

Solar is one of three federal tax credits currently available, McClasky explained. He added there is also a 30 percent tax credit available for a skeleton pole barn.

“We put panels on existing barns or we’ll build the barn,” Cherry continued. “The available tax credit can be very beneficial for farmers who are wanting to add another barn.”

The tax credit for the barn structure in addition to the solar tax credit is another item to consider if contemplating sustainable energy options for your farm or ranch but Cherry and McClasky recommended speaking to a tax adviser prior to making a final decision.

McClasky also mentioned working with area second and third generation farmers who are looking at solar as a way to improve their operations for the next generation.

“In Missouri, solar energy systems are exempt from state, local and county property taxes,” McClasky continued, adding this is also the case for Kansas. Additionally, Empire Electric began offering a $0.50 rebate in 2015 to solar energy system owners.

Cherry also explained HomePro takes care of the paperwork and interactions with the utility company for the landowner — from design approval and engineering to fee payments.

Monitoring systems come with every solar array so landowners can monitor electricity production and usage in real time online or through a smartphone app. This, Cherry said, has helped people become more conscientious of their energy usage.

“Monitoring here is pretty core,” Tullis said.

Most people in the area have opted for a grid-tied system where they are not “off the grid” but use a bidirectional meter which measures the amount of energy you put into the grid and how much you use off the grid during times of low energy production. When the system produces more than you use, the utility company reimburses you.

Currently, battery prices make an off-the-grid system cost prohibitive for most individuals, McClasky said. However, lower battery prices are on the horizon.

Solar Leases for Agricultural Lands

Shannon Ferrell, Oklahoma State University associate professor of agricultural law, spoke last month in a webinar on “Solar Leasing for Agricultural Lands” for the National Agricultural Law Center. He explained solar — and wind — power leases are growing in popularity and agricultural landowners should be prepared if they are approached for a lease. He recommended considering how it will impact land use, the duration of the agreement, landowner obligations, compensation and clean up.

Ferrell also explained solar panels generally take less land but more fully occupies the space — meaning land may be taken out of agricultural production. However, he pointed out it does provide the opportunity for supplemental revenue.

“You need to do an effective economic analysis,” Ferrell said, adding farmers and ranchers must compare the cost of taking land out of production versus the benefits of a solar lease on their land.

For more information on solar lease agreements, Ferrell’s presentation is available on the National Agricultural Law Center’s website. For additional information on Home Pro’s sustainable energy options or to register for a Home Pro Solar Seminar, call 1-800-301-2442.