Farmers invited to solar informational meeting

Published March 11, 2013

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2013 2:30 pm

A Tennessee company hopes to energize area farmers to consider solar energy systems that could pay for themselves within three years, thanks to a TVA program and federal grants available for such systems.

LightWave Solar is inviting farmers to an informational luncheon Friday at Western Kentucky University to learn about the grant program that could provide up to 50 percent – or $15,000 – of a solar-power system’s cost.

Farmers would be paid a premium for any energy they generate by Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Power Providers program, and they could qualify for low-interest loans from the Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund, according to Grace Robertston, marketing manager for LightWave.

Because of the incentives available to farmers, LightWave is targeting the agriculture industry, but Robertson said business owners and homeowners also are welcome to attend the meeting to learn more about solar systems.

Anyone is eligible for the 30 percent federal tax credit for installing their system and can apply for the Green Power Program, at least through the end of May. Grant applications for farmers are due next month.

Robertson said the payback for systems is typically five to six years for commercial operations and about 10 years for homeowners.

Robertson, who lives in Nashville, has 13 panels installed on what she describes as a tiny roof.

Her electric bill averages about $100 a month, with about $70 of that offset by her solar panels.

“We also have solar at the office and will be expanding it soon,” she said.

The solar industry has gotten somewhat of a bad rap because of the failed Solyndra solar company and locally because of the Hemlock plant in Clarksville, Tenn., which had massive layoffs recently even before its production began. Solyndra was awarded big bucks in stimulus funding but then couldn’t deliver when the price of silicon fell.

“Prices have fallen for solar panels, which have been good for installers and customers, but it has caused a lot of turmoil for silicon manufacturing prices,” Robertson said. “But I think prices have plateaued and if anything will rise a little bit.”

To join the Green Power Provider program, customers sign a 20-year contract with TVA to provide their energy back to the grid. They get a premium the first 10 years, and after that the going rate for their electricity.

Robertson said LightWave has about two dozen projects in Kentucky. If farmers are interested, the company helps them apply for the grant and low interest loans and helped with the TVA paperwork.

“The tax credit is just a matter of checking a box on your tax return,” Robertson said.

– Anyone interested in attending the free seminar at the WKU faculty house from noon to 2 p.m. Friday should call Robertson at 615-641-4050, ext. 104, or email [email protected] as soon as possible.

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