Solar-powered pivot a success By Jeff Rice Sterling Journal-Advocate
￼Randy Weis and his mother, Darlene, stand in front of the solar array on their farm southeast of Holyoke. Jeff Rice, Sterling Journal-Advocate
Randy Weis’ potatoes weren’t just nourished by sunshine this past summer, they were watered with sunshine, too.
Weis planted 130 acres of potatoes on ground owned by his mother, Darlene, southeast of Holyoke this past year and used a 15-kilowatt solar array to run the pump and sprinkler motors on his center pivot system. He won’t know until January how much he saved in energy costs, but estimates the system will pay for itself in about 15 years and then pay him back for another 15 years.
The installation is part of Colorado State University’s Solar and Wind Assessments for Pivots, or SWAP, program from the university’s Rural Energy Center. Cary Weiss, REC director, was back on Weis’ farm last week with CSU videographer Mark Rose and Golden Solar owner Don Parker to record comments about the first year of operation. Rose will edit the video taken at the site and it will be posted online as part of CSU Extension’s outreach program.
Weis is the first producer to follow up on program recommendations to the extent of using solar energy. Golden Solar installed 56 of the panels in a corner of Weis’ field late last year at a cost of about $50,000. That included concrete pylons, racks, solar panels and wiring. Even with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program kicking if 25 percent, it’s still a cost of $38,000 to Weis.
Still, Weis said the new pivot sprinkler the solar system powers cost $80,000 in 2015 and, before the solar went in, he spent $12,000 a year for electricity to run it. If he saves the $2,500 a year he thinks he’ll save, the system will pay for itself in 15 years and give him another 15 years of service with very little maintenance.
Based on preliminary figures from the first year’s bills, Weis and everyone else connected with the project proclaimed the project a success. In fact, the normally taciturn Weis was practically effusive about the solar.
“I figure I pretty much ran all of the electricity in my Quonset hut for free,” he said, “and I think the rebates on the center pivot are going to come out pretty good.”
Because irrigation takes place at night as much as it does during the day, Weis’ system is wired with two meters, one for electrical usage from Highline Electric Association, and one for power the solar array returns to the grid. At the end of the year, theoretically, Weis will receive a check for the returned power, or the amount will be credited to his account to be used in the coming year. In any event, he’s looking forward to substantial savings.
Weiner said he still needs to examine the billing information from HEA but that so far the system seems to be producing as expected. “It’s producing what we thought it would produce, and Randy seems enthusiastic,” he said. “We’re really gratified that he’s opening up his property to have people come see about it.”