Energy finds place on farm

Whether it’s solar power, natural gas, biomass, wind or electricity, farmers and landowners are playing an increasing role in producing energy and getting it from one place to another.

Educating farmers about those roles and how to protect their interests was the topic of a Seneca County Farm Bureau meeting Thursday evening.

“Agriculture will be involved in producing 25 percent of our nation’s energy needs by 2025,” said Dale Arnold, director of energy, utility and local government policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “Energy is going to be seen as an agricultural commodity very soon.”

Farmers must be aware of the part they are to play in growing crops for energy as well as accommodating the passage pipelines, electric lines and other methods of moving energy.

Arnold provided an overall view of the energy scene and how energy is traded on markets similar to the way agricultural commodities are traded.

He said Seneca County is being looked at by several types of energy providers, and leasing agents for natural gas companies have been in the New Riegel area for the last month or so.

He suggested landowners do some research before accepting a $15-20 per acre rental fee.

“Landowners in northeast Ohio are getting much more than that,” he said.

Arnold said each farm must decide how best to meet its own energy needs.

“You’re going to be creating your own energy strategy, your own tool box,” he said.

A few examples of items in the tool box are advanced metering systems, appliances that “talk” to each other, interactive devices and battery backups to store power in case of a temporary outage.

On the topic of providing easements for transmission lines, he said landowners should research and actively participate in contract negotiations for easements. Even if eminent domain applies, he said the details of a contract are negotiable and people should think of it as negotiations with a business partner.

“Think about your generation, your children and your grandchildren,” he said. “You only get to negotiate once. We’ve been showing farmers how to do that quite a bit lately.

“For every dollar you spend in research and negotiation with your business partner, you’ll save $15 in litigation very quickly,” he said.

Steve Irwin, public outreach coordinator with the Ohio Power Siting Board, reviewed projects underway in Seneca County and gave an overview of OPSB.

In addition to the Melmore Substation project in Eden Township, he said electric line upgrades are underway between Tiffin, Fremont and Fostoria as part of American Electric Power’s Fremont Area Improvement Plan.

Irwin said there has been no action on the Republic wind farm project, which originally called for 83 wind turbines. No OPSB application has been filed.

“We have record of four different companies with wind leases in Seneca County,” he said. “Certainly Seneca County is someplace that wind has been targeted for the future.”

Speaking about solar energy, Jess Ennis, sales manager for ecojiva, a solar installation company, explained how solar systems work on farms.

“Right now, there’s a real sweet spot in solar power right here in Ohio,” he said.

Rural Energy for America Program grants are available to assist with the cost of purchasing and installing solar energy systems.

“Right now, the Ohio office of USDA is almost begging people to apply for these grants,” he said.

Along with other incentives, he said grants allow farmers to purchase solar systems for 5-10 percent of their original price if a grant pays for 25 percent, 30 percent in a tax credit, 30 percent in a renewable energy credit and 10 percent in depreciation.

“The potential for solar power is unimaginable,” Ennis said. About 18 percent of the sunlight that hits a solar array is converted to electricity, compared to 6 percent when solar power was new in the 1950s.

“It’s a way of plugging directly into the sun,” he said. “Technology has improved so much that 365 days a year you’ll be producing power from solar.”

Ennis said solar systems were given a boost by federal government renewable energy mandates adopted in 2008 which require 12.5 percent of energy produced in the United States to be produced from renewable sources by 2025.

Ennis said farmers often have the space for either rooftop or ground solar arrays.

As farmers produce electricity, he said they send excess into the electric grid and receive credits which can be used during grain-drying time to keep costs down.

“As rates continue to climb, that means more savings in your electrical costs down the road,” he said.