Sunday, July 28, 2019

The GFF Solar Project: Long Time Coming

 I was in 7th grade when I first 'researched' the options for solar energy.  At that time, it seemed as if solar would gain traction and become a viable option for rapid expansion as a major supplier for the power grid.  People were gaining direct exposure to solar power with the proliferation of inexpensive solar calculators (among other things) and the future seemed, quite literally, bright for alternative energy. 
1982 US stamp series featuring various 'energy sources'
Of course, some of the reason for all of the push was the rapid increase in oil prices during the 1970's.  But, we humans are fickle creatures and our attention spans can be notoriously short.  Oil prices fell in the mid 1980's and the pressure to promote alternative energy sources declined.  My old solar calculator still resides in our cash box during CSA distributions and continues to do a fine job.  And, Tammy and I have continued to pursue the dream of supporting alternative energy production - even though it has been a long journey.  And, that journey is not quite over.
Site for new solar panels at Genuine Faux Farm
We actually started to explore solar options for our farm in 2006, when we attended a couple of informational sessions in Decorah.  As is the case for so many things like this, we were going to have to revisit the process multiple times before we were ready to move forward.  We went so far as to have a site assessment and estimate in 2009.  That project was for 4 to 5 kiloWatt Hours and it was quickly superseded by other critical projects on the farm (such as a new furnace).  As it was, the cost was above what we could reasonably pay, even though we were willing to stretch to accomplish the goal.
Eagle Point Solar put in the GFF Solar Array
University of Northern Iowa's CEEE had a Farm Energy Working Group active in 2012 and we decided, once again, to go through the process of exploring our options.  This time, we were able to do a full site evaluation and report with the grant support provided by this program.  We were able to identify two possible site locations on the farm and we had a much better idea as to what it would take to accomplish our goals to power the farm using renewable resources.  But, once again, life intervened.  Our money had to go to other expenses that were more critical (ah, life in an old farm house!) and we simply ran out of time to follow up on the next steps of the project.

 And, here we are in 2019.  Tammy and I had our own little GFF Farm Retreat and we both put solar among the 'big projects' each of us had on our minds for the future of the farm.  Perhaps, just as importantly, we identified the need to make our farm into a place where we wanted to live instead of a place we tolerated living at.  While we grant you that the solar project was not a 'critical item' on the same level as 'make a kitchen that doesn't have a hole in the floor that leads directly to the basement' it still held an important place for us.  Why?  Because it is a part of who we are and a part of what we think is the right direction for the Genuine Faux Farm.

As is normally the case, the farm and everything else began to take precedence and the solar project was on hold until we heard about a possible "group buy" through Eagle Point Solar that could reduce the cost of new solar projects in the Black Hawk (and surrounding county) area.  We attended the introductory meeting and decided to go through the process.  If Eagle Point could keep the ball rolling, then we were going to try to give this a go this time around.

Nothing is ever as simple as you think it should be.  But, then again, if it were easy, you would have to question if the project were really worth doing.  Ok.  Maybe you wouldn't question it.  But, I would. 

We initially thought we could pursue a REAP grant to help with funding until we discussed it with a professional grant writer who as done multiple REAP grants.  Lets just say that REAP grants are NOT geared for farms our size and leave it at that.  It also turns out that the best location for solar on our property crosses the two parcels we own.  This required us to go through some legal processes to get that fixed so we could proceed with the identified location.  And, of course, there was/is the financing.

Installation was mostly complete after one day.
After one full day and a small portion of a second day, the solar array is installed on the farm.  We are now awaiting Alliant Energy as they must hook the panels to the power lines.  Once they do that, there are other processes before they 'flip the switch' and all is operational.  We have to admit that the build occurred far earlier than we were thinking it would - such is life when schedules of others are involved.  The farm had been using this area as our seedling nursery and cold frame area.  Needless to say, that had to be cleaned up before they could build.

At this point, it would be safe to say that the two of us are both pleased and in denial.  We have believed that this was the right thing to do for many years and we finally have an opportunity to follow through.  But, it's been in the works for so long and we have had so many false starts that it is difficult to bring ourselves to believe that this is actually happening.  We would like to share more with everyone about this project on our blog as we find time - so consider this a PART ONE blog post. 

And here's to worthwhile projects.

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