Arkansas farmers see benefits of going solar
DESHA COUNTY, Ark. (KATV) —
Southern Arkansas is amassed with farmland that spans far and wide.
In the town of Tillar, a farmer named AJ Hood relies on an alternative source of energy to power his grain bins.
"I believe solar is going to be as practical on a farm as a tractor in the next five years," Hood of Desha County said.
Hood's farming family in Arkansas dates back to the late 1800s. Rice, corn and soybeans are among the prominently grown crops.
"I think you're born to farm , not you learn to farm," Hood said.
Within the state's agriculture community, Hood is one of the early adopters of solar technology. He also serves as president of the Arkansas Soybean Association.
His operation involves 625 panels plotted on a little over an acre. The arrays have been soaking up the sun since June.
"We're utilizing the sun everyday to grow our crops so with this, it's just another aspect of it that we're taking advantage of," Hood said.
The proposed economic advantages are what tempted hood in the first place to go solar.
He noted farming is in a crisis across the country due to ongoing trade disputes between the U.S. and China.
Hood believes in the long-term, Solar will provide that extra financial cushion.
"If I was paying just my electric bills, this facility here cost me about $30,000," he said.
That's $30,000 in savings each year, which provides an extra layer of security from rising energy costs.
Delta SunEnergy noted an operation of Hood's scale cost about $300,000 with a return on investment of five to six years.
Hood was able to reduce the overall price of installation by 25 percent with the help of a USDA grant.
Businesses are able to depreciate the majority of the cost of a solar system in addition to the 30 percent tax credit for all solar installs, according to officials with Delta SunEnergy, the company that installed Hood's solar arrays.
But the purpose of solar farms in the agriculture industry goes well beyond helping out farmers' bottom line.
In 2017, Arkansans consumed over 12,000 kilowatts of electricity on average.
"I have enough panels right there to run about 30-40 homes," Hood said.
That could potentially result in lower utility bills for locals.
"I'm burning the power right now but in January, February, I'm not going to be burning the power so this is going to hit the grid and go into our community here in Tillar so everybody's basically reaping benefits from this," Hood said.
Solar is growing industry, especially in the south, according to Katie Niebaum, who serves on the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association.
"We might have been a little delayed in our adoption of solar but it's really started to take off," Hood said.
The green energy sector generates $2.8 billion into the state economy, employing 25,000 people.
From urban to rural, Niebaum stressed that solar is for everyone.
"We're also working to educate our policy makers, our elected officials to know that this is something that is helping Arkansans and we want to continue to put into place policies that encourage solar adoption and other advanced energy technologies too," Niebaum said.
Hood is also playing an education role, talking with passersby about how solar affects more than just the farmer.
Governor Asa Hutchison is an outspoken proponent of solar and visited with Hood in Desha County in August.
"I've had a lot of people stop and look and call wanting to know about it and how they work. It really has been a fun adventure for me thus far," Hood said.