Farmer's Electric Co-op
If current clean energy tax credits were extended to 2030, it would provide more certainty for our members interested in solar, and making the credits refundable would benefit folks of all income levels.
Our 9-acre farm, the front 4-1/2 acres were installed in 2014 – at that time the largest solar farm in Iowa. The back 4-1/2 acres installed in 2017. Both halves financed by separate power purchase agreements.
Farmers Electric Co-op (then called Farmers Light & Power Company) was first formed in 1916 by local farmers in southeast Iowa who wanted electricity on their farms. Many things were different in those early days: lights shut off at 10:00 p.m. when the Kalona generators were shut down, board members rode their buggies seven or eight miles to attend meetings, and since the technology was so new, no one had any formal training and the farmers all learned by doing.
Things have changed since then - two World Wars have been fought, countless companies have been formed, merged with each other, and subsequently gone out of business - but Farmers Electric has maintained its independence and its core ideals. Self-reliance and safe, reliable, and affordable electric service controlled by local leadership have always been hallmarks of Farmers Electric Cooperative, and they always will be.
This dedication to self-reliance led us to invest in solar energy. Encouraged by two of our largest energy members and driven by the desire to cut outside costs, we started our solar program in 2008. The program has since grown into one of the largest in the nation on an installed watts-per-member basis, and it's been incredibly popular. 26% of our members own solar, and we produce between 15-20% of our total kWhrs with solar.
Our customers like it because it’s reliable, and it keeps their rates level. Because we can produce so much of our electricity locally, it helps insulate from market volatility that would otherwise drive-up prices. We like it because it increases our load factor, reduces our peak demand, and allows us to keep our dollars local. The less money we have to pay to buy electricity from elsewhere, the more money we can keep in our communities, and the stronger they’ll become.
Producing electricity locally also allows us to recover quicker from natural disasters. During the derecho this past summer, our transmission provider, ITC, had a line knocked out for about 21 hours that provided for us and the neighboring communities. Within 6-8 minutes of the disruption - the time it took our back-up generators to come online - our members without line damage had their power back. All those with line damage had their power restored by 3:00 p.m the day of the derecho, much sooner than folks in the surrounding communities.
We’re very proud to say we’ve never taken any money from federal loans, but we believe there are still things the federal government can do to encourage renewable energy generation. If current clean energy tax credits were extended to 2030, it would provide more certainty for our members interested in solar, and making the credits refundable would benefit folks of all income levels.
Currently, anyone wishing to access the renewable energy investment tax credit (ITC) while installing batteries or other storage systems has to install solar cells at the same time – simply installing standalone energy storage on its own would not be eligible for the credit. It makes sense to extend renewable energy tax credits to battery installations. Battery systems will be essential for adding more renewable energy to the grid as these sectors experience record growth in the future.
When Farmer’s Electric Co-op was founded over a hundred years ago, none of the founding farmers could foresee the technological advances of electrical distribution, let alone eventually transition to capturing electricity from the sun. We’ve come a long way since then. With the sustainable, insulatory benefits of solar energy, we’re confident we’ll last another hundred years.
The community solar garden. We sell the panels to members then credit their bills for the monthly production. Rows were added as demand dictated. The small garden shed houses the inverters. Part of our substation and diesel generator facility in the upper right.