Alternative energy sources worthwhile in ag
“It is becoming more economically advantageous for people across the country to use renewable resources,” states Chris Gottfried, Gannett Peak Energy president (GPE).
Wyoming is known for its natural resources, like coal and gas, but alternative energy sources are fast becoming a part of the landscape.
“There’s a big opportunity for alternative energy and renewable resources in agribusinesses and rural communities, especially in Wyoming,” Gottfried says.
According to Gottfried, costs to manufacture and install alternative energy equipment are decreasing, along with energy output costs.
He believes alternative energy is even more useful for rural customers who live in remote areas because self-sustainability is available through this technology.
“Farmers, ranchers and people in agribusiness take great pride in using land cost-effectively, and using renewable resources to power their operations goes hand-in-hand with that idea,” says Gottfried.
Depending on the size of property, GPE products have a power level of five to 10 kilowatts (kw), which can power up to five buildings or homes, says Gottfried.
“Farmers and ranchers can use GPE turbines to power entire operations with a single 10 kw turbine,” he adds.
Larger operations sometimes use alternative energy sources for power in particular areas, like a cattle facility, while the rest of the operation is powered with traditional power sources, states Gottfried.
“Small wind turbines are a very renewable solution for small scale applications, which is beneficial for farms, ranches and rural areas,” he comments, adding, even churches are looking into alternative power sources.
Farmer and ranchers can also use solar panels to run pumps in stock wells, which reduces the need for expensive transmission lines, says Shawn Taylor, Wyoming Rural Electric Association executive director.
“Small wind chargers can be put on houses or buildings to provide renewable energy,” he adds.
Taylor mentions, in Wyoming, there is a net metering law, which allows anyone to install up to 25 kw of solar panels or wind charger on a residence.
“When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, but electricity isn’t being used, the power generated goes back into the grid and offsets electrical use,” explains Taylor.
Alternative energy benefits
Gottfried believes two advantages of alternative energy are economic benefits and social impacts.
“Economic benefit is the main driver for people to switch to renewable energy sources,” he notes, adding, “The social impacts for rural customers and agribusinesses include enabling consumers to be more self-sufficient.”
Alternative energy and renewable resources are becoming more prominent across the U.S. because farmers and ranchers are seeing economic benefits, as well.
“As technology has improved and as renewable energy infrastructure has developed further, it makes sense for people to invest in this type of technology,” Gottfried adds.
Producers typically breakeven on their investment in eight to 10 years, even when they remain on-grid and choose to only augment their energy consumption with alternative sources.
“In the end, the investment and switch to alternative energy works out because smaller turbines have limited upkeep and maintenance costs,” says Gottfried.
Also, environmentally, wind and solar energy sources produce zero emissions when generating electricity, says Taylor.
“Another benefit for ranchers or farmers comes from royalties from big wind farms who want to put wind turbines on producer’s property. The turbines don’t take up much farm or rangeland either,” he adds.
Alternative energy still has some issues, which can cause problems for those in the agriculture community, notes Taylor.
“Turbines may bother neighbors next to large wind farms, especially if those neighbors don’t receive financial benefits,” he explains.
Taylor also mentions, while wind and solar do offer zero emissions, the materials for the turbines, solar panels and technical components do have carbon footprints, leading him to believe those who promote the environmental aspects of solar and wind energy don’t always tell the whole story.
According to Taylor, wind and solar energy sources are intermittent because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
“Wyoming has good wind and solar resources, but a big enough wind or solar farm can’t be built to meet energy need, like coal can,” he adds. “People want their pivots to turn when they’re supposed to, and they want reliable electricity.”
Also, turbines are available for producers to install on their operations, but they can be a very expensive in terms of upfront cost.
At the industry level, according to Gottfried, alternative energy is a growing opportunity, which comes with challenges.
“The cost of purchasing and installing even smaller wind turbines is understandably a large amount of money. Getting over that hurdle and getting cash outflow is a major challenge,” he adds.
In Wyoming, oil and gas are the main focus, but diversifying the energy industry will require effort to overcome challenges.
“Gov. Matt Mead has set a pretty positive direction for diversifying Wyoming’s economy, but to continue, workforce development and investments in technology need to be made. There are some great opportunities in Wyoming,” notes Gottfried.
While natural resources may be plentiful in Wyoming, Gottfried sees an opportunity for the economy to augment oil and gas with renewable energy sources.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org