Sunshine often plays a key role in the overall well-being of most people, but for a Blooming Prairie area couple it brings green in the form of extra cash.
Karl and Nancy (Kaplan) Luiken wouldn’t mind if it were always sunny on their 160- acre farm in Blooming Prairie Township north of BP. Nearly a year ago the couple ventured into the solar energy, which is the fastest growing energy source. They are reaping the benefits of seeing less expensive electric bills through Steele-Waseca Cooperative.
“We’re going green and it’s not tractors,” said Karl. “We’re green for the environment and the money.”
For years, Nancy grew up on the farm being surrounded by pigs, cows, chickens and beef. The livestock is long gone, and now her childhood place features a solar farm. The Luikens have a single array of a 65-foot wide by 16-foot solar system with 40 panels.
Jay Peterson of American Energy installed the solar system for the Luikens. Peterson, who has been working with solar for the past five years, sells, designs and installs the entire system for solar customers. He said there are about 10 systems around the Blooming Prairie area.
Peterson estimated that the average home spends between $30,000-$50,000 to install the system. “It’s not a cost, it’s a definite investment,” he said. He added there are many different financing options available.
He said there is a definite boom right now with solar systems. Peterson said as a society, we are becoming less dependent on fossil fuels. He believes there will always be a need for solar.
Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy and solar architecture. It is an important source of renewable energy.
In exchange for producing solar energy, the Luikens get a credit applied to their monthly invoice from Steele-Waseca. “Some months the credit exceeds our usage so we get a check,” Nancy says.
“As a consumer of energy, it reduces our dependency on buying electricity,” said Nancy.
In addition to the savings on their energy bill, the Luikens also realized a 30% reduction on their personal income taxes last year. “We have no regrets, it really helped with taxes,” she said.
The daily production of solar energy varies with the amount of sunshine produced by Mother Nature. The highest reading the Luikens have seen so far is 98.2-kilowatt hours in a single day. The average is usually in the 60s. In August, they reached 2.23 megawatt hours with a year-to-date total of 14 megawatt hours.
A print out of their usage shows that they have offset the equivalent of 40 trees from January through the end of August. Their carbon offset for just August was 1.54 tons.
The Luikens entered into a 10-year agreement with Steele-Waseca to produce solar energy at the urging of their neighbor, Rodney Krell, who is a board member of the local cooperative. Nancy expects to hit their return investment within five years. “The last five years would be profit,” she said, adding after 10 years they would have the option to continue producing energy for their own gain. They can also add more solar panels in the future if they choose.
Besides the savings on electric bills, solar provides many other benefits. Some of them include protection against rising energy costs, increase in property value, boost of U.S. energy independence and protecting the environment.
Karl and Nancy initially went to an informational meeting about solar energy offered through Steele-Waseca. “We found it’s a good investment and we’re protecting our environment,” she said.
Community solar participation is open to all Steele-Waseca members.
Producing solar energy, the Luikens say, is relatively maintenance-free. “We really have to do nothing other than an exercise when they have snow on them,” Nancy said. Karl devised a snow rake with a piece of Styrofoam on the end of it to use when snow piles up, which happened frequently last winter. “We have to go out there to scrape the snow off so they keep producing,” he said.
Just off to the west horizon near the Luiken farm, there are many wind mills through Oak Glen Wind Farm, which are also producing energy. The Luikens are aware of reports indicating how wind mills are harmful to the environment, especially with birds. They are more pleased to be producing energy through solar.
The only problem with solar is that there needs to be lots of sun. Asked if they pray for sunshine, Karl responded, “Oh yeah.”
Added Nancy, “We get real crabby when it gets cloudy.”