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Example of solar panels from Solar South project gallery.

Savings from solar power chicken houses ‘like giving the farmer a raise’

By BECKY GILLETTE

Even small poultry farms with only four chicken houses can have power bills ranging from $20,000 to $25,000 per year. A game changer that can help chicken growers greatly reduce that annual electricity bill is solar panels that can cut those bills by $7,000 to $8,000 per year, said Ryan Ladner, president of Solar South LLC in Hattiesburg.

“USDA has a grant that covers 25 percent of the cost,” Ladner said. “Then there is a 30 percent federal tax credit. So, you will get 55 percent of your costs back in the first year.”

Ag applications in Mississippi have primarily been on chicken farms. Ladner said it is a great fit because most chicken farms use 60 to 70 percent of electricity in the day while the sun is shining to produce electricity from solar panels that is used to run fans to keep the chickens cool.

“Typical savings on a small size system we install are 50 percent,” Ladner said. “Large systems can take 70 percent off the electric bill. It is just like giving the farmer a raise. We track most of the numbers so we know how we are doing and make sure we are doing right by them. Chicken farms are our steady market. We keep up with data points on a lot of our farms as best as we can just to make sure our calculations are matching real life applications.”

Jimmy Parkman, who has a poultry farm in Raleigh in central Mississippi, said solar has been a perfect fit for him. More than two years after installation, the solar system has done everything Solar South promised.

“I love the solar panels,” Parkman said. “I’ve been well pleased. I think it is just awesome. Our original bills were $18,000 per year. Last year was my first complete full year that everything was up to par. Our bill was $9,000.  We get our power with Cooperative Energy that serves 11 rural power associations. They pay us 4 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity I send back. When the flock is gone, I send a lot back of electricity back to Cooperative Energy.”

However, Cooperative Energy charges Southern Pine Electric 7 cents per kw, and customers of Southern Pine are charged 11 cents per kw hour.

“We don’t get much return by sending the power back,” he said. “Now I run more fans because I didn’t get much from sending it back.”

He likes that the system has no moving parts and is easy to maintain. And Parkman expects to save even more in the future after the panels are paid for.

“If I shut down the farm and still have panels, it should make me something in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $6,000 per year,” Parkman said. “I will grow several more years, but the solar system will still be under warranty for longer than that. Everything I’ve read said panels are guaranteed for 25 years, but there is no reason they shouldn’t work well beyond 25 years. It has been an interesting thing for me. We have really loved it.”

Ladner said for the farms they do, solar is a no brainer. Some customers might initially question having one more thing to take care of. But Solar South provides a ten-year warranty on inverters and a 25-year warranty on panels.

“When looking at electricity as being one of their biggest expenditures and being able to cut biggest expenditure by 60 percent, it doesn’t take long for those number to start looking really good,” Ladner said. “

What happens if extreme weather hits the solar panels? The panels themselves are rated for a quite a bit of hail. Lander said it would take a very big storm to destroy the panels.

“If a tornado wipes out four chicken houses, obviously panels would go with them,” Ladner said. “They are engineered to carry a certain wind load, but nothing is going to hold up when it is directly hit by a tornado.”

In addition to fans, Ladner said all of the poultry houses have water wells that can also be powered by solar. That can be significant when thousands of gallons of water are used for the chickens every day.

For ag in Mississippi, he puts poultry at the top of the list of operations that benefit the most from solar.

“There are also some hog farms popping up throughout Mississippi and those could work very well,” Ladner said. “There is also the potential for it to be used for irrigation in the Delta. I’m trying to educate myself about where we would do the most good in the Delta. Replacing diesel generators with solar for pumping groundwater, the payback is going to be really quick. Groundwater irrigation solar systems are going to have a lot of advantages in the future.”

Ladner said it takes about five years to pay for a system. “Then for the next 20 to 25 years, you have electricity at no cost,” he said. “If you look at the cost over a 25-year period, it is about 3.5 cents per kw.”

Ladner said the Mississippi Public Service Commission has done a great job with making a really fair net metering system.

“Brandon Presley has really been pushing for a net metering standard for some time now,” Ladner said. “Mississippi has structed a very fair standard. There are aspects we would like changed but, all in all, it is not nearly as bad as most people from out of state think it is.”

Ladner said his company is currently working with several school systems interested in installing solar systems at the schools.

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About Becky Gillette