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Solar power equals long-term savings for Arkansas grower

Producer hopes to save about $35,000 a year with solar power.

Forrest Laws

May 5, 2020

Most farmers are in the sunshine business. They plant seed and hope they will receive enough sunlight to help their crops grow and produce the highest possible yields for the lowest cost.

When it comes to converting sunlight to electrical energy, that’s uncharted territory for producers like Tim Covington, who farms rice and soybeans on the Craighead-Poinsett County line in northeast Arkansas.

“When they first approached me about installing solar panels, I wasn’t sure if I should do this or not,” said Covington, who spoke on “A farmer’s experience with on-farm solar” at the Arkansas Soil and Water Education Conference, which is held annually at Arkansas State University.

“I took in all my energy bills, my electrical usage, and what we use on my grain bins — I have 20 grain bins and 10 electrical wells — and my farm shop, and we added it all up. I usually spend from $50,000 to $55,000 a year, and with their estimates it looked like the savings would be about 73 percent.”

Those figures piqued Covington’s interest, but he was still somewhat skeptical about the benefits on his farm.

He went to his accountant and asked if he thought the tax savings in the proposal would be real. “Are these savings going to benefit me? He said that for my operation and what I had on the farm there would be a savings for me.”


Next, he talked to a friend who was an engineer for a utility company about the feasibility of the proposal. “We got together a couple of days later, and the cons he had really didn’t amount to anything,” said Covington. “I had already looked at them, and they weren’t that significant.”

The pros? “He told me, Tim, you’re going to be locking in your electrical costs for the next 25 years or more. Right now you’re paying X per kilowatt hour. In 2027 or 2028, when these coal-burning power plants go off the grid the cost of electricity will go up. The experts say two or three times, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t undershooting this.”

Intrigued even more, Covington opted for a 300,000 kilo-watt solar system that could be installed on 2 acres on his farm.

“I put it in behind some of the grain bins,” he said, referring to a slide with an aerial view of the project. “We hooked right into the meter; there was no cost to hook into the meter, which was a definite benefit to me.”

While Covington has been spending about $50,000 to $55,000 a year, the “cost of doing nothing” or not installing solar could have meant his costs would have risen to $100,000 to $125,000 a year.

“Hopefully, if this thing pans out, and we produce what we say we can with these 2 acres of solar, I’ll be saving $35,000 a year,” he noted. “As you can see on the slide, over the next 20 to 25 years it’s going to add up to some money.

“On the slide it shows the possibility of saving a million dollars over the life of the system of 25 years. As a few producers in here know, I still won’t have a million dollars laying around because I’ll waste it somewhere else on the farm.

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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