Making the Case for Solar on Arkansas Farms
Farming is challenging under the best of circumstances. Throw in unpredictable weather patterns, economic conditions and trade wars, and it becomes inherently more difficult. But if there’s one constant agricultural producers can depend on it is a high monthly utility bill. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), energy costs account for a growing portion of farm businesses’ total cash expenses, reaching up to 16 percent for intensive row crops like rice and soybeans.
Here in Arkansas, we depend on farmers for our livelihoods. As the state’s number one industry, agriculture supports more than 260,000, or approximately one in six, jobs and $16 billion in annual economic impact. If Arkansas wants to remain competitive with our neighbors, both domestically and abroad, we need our farmers and their commodities to thrive. One way to help ensure that: solar energy.
Over the last several years, Arkansas’s agricultural industry has been on the front lines of the renewable energy industry. Across the state, producers have opted to go solar to levelize and control their energy costs. Others have leveraged net-meter aggregation for multiple meters on their land. Together, these investments are helping reduce their overhead expenditures and, in turn, significantly increasing their bottom lines. And with growing interest in and use of solar batteries on farms, we fully expect more Arkansans to harness these technologies in 2020 to further cut their production and operating costs.
For many of our state’s farmers, the decision to go solar has been solidified by the plethora of available federal financing and incentives. Today, qualified Arkansas producers can apply for funding from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to pay for up to 25 percent of their solar installation costs. Combine this with the 26 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and other easily accessible grants and loan programs, and farmers can cover nearly 75 percent of their investments. Seemingly overnight, solar panels have become as standard an investment decision as purchasing a new piece of production equipment.
2020 may not be the year of complete solar domination on Arkansas farms. But soon, these panels will become as ubiquitous as tractors and grain silos as farmers across the state choose to reap the financial benefits of renewable energy.
Heather Nelson is the co-founder and president of Seal Solar, one of Arkansas’s leading solar businesses that offers turnkey solutions to homeowners, businesses, government entities and farmers. Since it was founded in 2012, the firm has completed more than 325, or approximately one in five, solar projects in the state. For more information, visit sealsolar.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.