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Solar powers farm shop near CallawaySolar powers farm shop near Callaway

A new 25 kilowatt, 140-foot long, 12-foot high, solar panel system should produce 40,000 kilowatt-hours per year.

Curt Arens

March 8, 2016

3 Min Read

Jim Jenkins has a new power source for his farm shop. Jenkins recently completed installation of a 25 kilowatt solar panel system at the Jenkins Ranch near Callaway. The system consists of 100 solar modules, each producing 255 watts, mounted together on aluminum racks, located in a small gulch near the shop. The array is 140 feet long and 12 feet high.


The project, completed by Solar Heat and Electric based in Omaha, is one of a few new solar projects being installed around the state for agricultural applications. "I was excited to try something new," Jenkins told a group of neighbors, state and federal agency personnel, public power representatives and media at a recent open house at the shop. "Solar power is small and accessible for all of us."

Jenkins noted that after-tax costs of the roughly $75,000 project were low, considering the combination of an $18,750 USDA Rural Energy for America Program grant, tax credits and bonus Section 179 depreciation that are part of the financing package. The balance of the project was financed through Cornerstone Bank in Central City.

According to Michael Shonka with Solar Heat and Electric, Jenkin's solar system should produce 40,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Considering tax credits and accelerated depreciation allowed, it could return 40% of the initial investment in the first year and eight to 10% over the life of the system. The project will provide profits of about $4,000 per year.


Jenkins said that solar power needs to be discussed among potential stakeholders. Solar has the potential to provide mini-power plants on farms and ranches all across the state. "My concern is that if we have enough of these mini-power plants in the form of solar arrays, how will local public power districts deal with infrastructure?" Jenkins said. When the solar system on Jenkin's ranch is producing power that is consumed by the operation, he is credited by the power company at a retail power rate. Anything produced by the solar array beyond what is utilized on the ranch is credited back to Jenkins at a lower wholesale rate.


Solar power is gaining traction in the state, according to David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office. "Solar panels cost about 25% of what they did seven or eight years ago," Bracht told the group. He likened solar power to the basis of agriculture in capturing sunlight energy and producing something crucial from that. "Solar captures energy for all of our benefits," Bracht said.

According to Shonka, solar arrays like those installed on the Jenkins Ranch are nearly maintenance free. "There are no moving parts and very low maintenance," Shonka said. "The panels will withstand winds of 90 miles per hour and golf ball sized hail with no impact and the product comes with a 20 to 25 year guarantee." He said that some local insurance agents may not have expertise at insuring solar arrays, but more information is becoming available as other states have dealt with insurance issues.

Jenkins' shop joins a similar solar array installed in 2013 that helps power a center pivot irrigation system on the Beller family farm near Lindsay as examples of recent solar applications for agriculture, Shonka said. That project was installed in the middle of irrigation season in July, but the Bellers still produced more energy than they used and received a check from the power company for the extra energy production.

You can learn more about solar agriculture applications by contacting Shonka at 402-590-5900 or by calling the Nebraska Energy Office at 402-471-2867.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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