Local News: The energy of the future (7/28/17)

(Sentinel Photo by Thomas Schreiber)
About 15 people toured Plymouth County Pork Producer Joe Rotta’s farm Thursday morning to inspect his new solar installations. Along on the tour were Sen. Bill Anderson and Rep. Chuck Holz.

MERRILL — Solar energy is quickly becoming a popular form of renewable energy, and that is visible at Plymouth County Pork Producer Joe Rotta’s farm in rural Merrill.

The Rottas had two separate sets of solar panels installed last summer, and Thursday morning, representatives from North West REC, the Nature Conservancy in Iowa, the Center for Rural Affairs, Van Meter Inc., Sen. Bill Anderson, and Rep. Chuck Holz, toured the Rotta’s solar installation.

Patrick Snell, external affairs coordinator for the Nature Conservancy, explained the tour’s importance.

“It was providing a chance for legislators and other groups the opportunity to visit local solar installations to better understand what the costs are, what the economic opportunities are, and what are the potential benefits that solar energy can provide,” Snell said. “It really can work for people and nature.”

As the tour began, Rotta explained to the group he and his wife, Dianne, began exploring their options a few years ago.

“We ended up hooking up with Rob (Hach, Trusted Energy President),” Joe said. “We had some choices on whether we wanted to go with a fixed system, a tracker, or a roof mount. This is a simple fixed system and there are really no moving parts.”

Hach, present on the tour, discussed why solar energy was so appealing to the Rottas.

“You really can’t choose your electric provider unless you own your own electricity. Joe and Dianne did their research and wanted to have that freedom and independence,” Hach said.

The Rotta’s have a 99 kilowatt and 22 kilowatt installation, which Dianne said covered their yearly electric bill, with MidAmerican Energy.

Hach noted the installations produce about 140,000 kilowatt hours/year for the Rottas, and excess hours are used to cover periods of high usage.

“When you were looking at the electric bill, it was going along nicely and then October or November it spiked through the roof,” Hach said. “There are going to be days where they are overproducing and it’s being held as a credit with MidAmerican.”

During the tour, Holz questioned Hach about the price of the installation.

Hach said the panels’ installation cost $300,000 but with the incentives offered, the cost to the Rottas was about $80,000, something Dianne made clear as the primary reason the Rottas began using solar energy.

“For the legislators that are here, when we were considering the cost of this, if it wouldn’t have been for the Iowa Investment Tax Credit, the REAP grant, and being able to depreciate it, we would’ve never considered this because it would have been way too cost prohibitive,” Dianne said. “Those tax credits are very needed.”

Hach noted as technological advances continue, the price of solar energy keeps going down, as he explained the cost has decreased 80 percent over the last 25 years, which makes it more and more appealing to farmers like the Rottas.

“The input cost on the solar panel is going to be the same today as it will be 100 years from now,” Hach said. “It’s a way to create economic development in rural America.”

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