Saving money on the farm

ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. – Could there be any good news when it comes to record high gas prices?
Yes, says Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Eric Thumma. It encourages farmers to try something different.
Alternative energy may be cheaper in the long run, but people don’t see it that way until traditional energy prices are high, said Thumma, director of the Bureau of Energy, Innovation and Technology Deployment.
Renewable and alternative energy is domestic, home-grown and cost-competitive and is usually also environmentally friendly, he said. And with energy prices soaring, what better time to try them than now?
Biodigesters. One of farmers’ best opportunities is methane biodigesters, said Pa. Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty.
These biodigesters center on managing manure as revenue, not a clean-up hassle, she said Aug. 16 at Ag Progress Days in Rock Springs, Pa.
The manure’s methane gas is collected and used to generate energy. This energy is used to create on-site power.
In addition, McGinty said plans are in the works for farmers to be able to sell the extra energy they produce back to the electricity grid.
Windmills. Windmills are another lucrative energy opportunity, Thumma said.
With these utility-scale wind farms, leasing rights are paid to the landowner. Those payments range up to $4,000 per tower each year, Thumma said.
Even with the windmills on the property, 95 percent of the land can remain in production, he said. Plus, the landowner’s electricity bills will be cut by 50 percent to 90 percent.
Liquid fuels. Other opportunities are through growing “energy crops” for liquid fuels, Thumma said.
The federal energy bill will require the country’s ethanol use to more than double in the coming years. This will create more demand for corn and beans and federal tax credits will be an extra incentive, he said.
Pennsylvania is also looking at other liquid fuels, like that from switchgrass.
This is planted as a buffer between farms and streams and reduces runoff, but it also may be an energy crop when it is coal-fired, he said.
Energy efficiency. There are also ways for farmers to be more energy efficient on the farm.
This includes using variable speed-drive motors, which Thumma said are more efficient and could signal up to a 35 percent cut in electric bills.
Another option is to switch from using incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent, he said.
Solar water pumping can also reduce electricity costs and is a way to get energy out into fields, Thumma said.
Financial help. Pennsylvanians aren’t on their own when it comes to paying for these new ventures, Thumma said.
In addition to federal funds, Pennsylvania offers low-interest loans and grants to pay for renewable and alternative energy projects.
Pennsylvania agriculture has backed the renewable energy drive in the commonwealth, and in the Energy Harvest program alone, 42 percent of the grants have supported projects in the agricultural sector.
Currently, the Alternative Fuels Incentive Program, a $20 million program, is accepting proposals through Oct. 2, Thumma added.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)
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